I know it cleaned up at Sundance, but these days that sort of acclaim gives me more pause than encouragement and just so you know, I fucking loathe whimsical improbability. Improbability should put its dick in your mouth and make you love it or we're just wasting valuable nose-picking time. Example: I made it through eight minutes of The Grand Budapest Hotel and six of them were spent writhing in visceral agony. That's where we stand on the issue.
We endured half an hour of Slow West, not because it was slow, but because it was boring, gingerly improbably whimsical, poorly written, badly cast and listing portside with a queasy gutful of quirky stock characters (stabs self repeatedly) before halftime sounded. Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay the gormless Scottish youth in search of his great love Rose in the titular colonial wilds is... well, I could say a few things, but they would all be unkind. He looks twelve, exactly like the sort of pissant who wouldn't know passion from a jar of fucking capers and that matters when amour fou is supposed to be driving him across an unknown vastness into mortal peril. Especially in contrast to Michael Fassbender's Silas, a crusty-with-a-heart-of-gold bounty hunter (it burns!), Michael tries too hard and will always be too much in such a sea of not enough.
And can I just say that as a New Zealander I’ve had it up to my tits with our local landscapes (in this case someone's shitty pine plantation and back-country sheep block) being lazily passed off as everything from Mexico to the Himalayas? Slow West scrapes that budget visual barrel to the extent that I expected to see someone wander into shot scratching their arse in a fucking Swandri, and all while no one can get a specifically, authentically New Zealand story funded. The NZ Film Commission that bankrolled this obtuse shite wouldn't throw five bucks at Flight of the Conchords. Fuck you, NZFC, seriously. Both thumbs down.
Sitting through this account of James 'Whitey' Bulger's personal shortcomings was like being dunked in a bucket of muddy water and sloshed around, bumping into stuff like Depp in crusty prosthetics again, Joel Egerton's squinty mugging while the XXXL supporting cast flails with you, often valiantly, in a mass of pointless, sluggish reiteration. The dull palette unwittingly reflects the played-out nature of the material, from the deeply cliché-humping script to the makeweight murder sequences that underscore just how tawdry such an existence must be and prompts one to ponder all this scribal fascination with these skanky and vacuous hoods.
The Bulger story is beset with challenges to successful adaptation; scungy parochial settings, stunted unsightly protagonists and tedious procedures etc., but Black Mass's biggest problem is the fact that it doubles down on that DGAF material with a shoegazing treatment. Scorsese understands the breathless point of his own gangster voyeurism; Cooper seemed to miss it altogether, even in the midst of some brow-raising plagiarism. If it was gritty authenticity he was going after why the hell did he tap Johnny the Homeless Santa, who's about as gangster as his BFF Marilyn 'lol Brian' Manson? Our minds boggled in unison.
Actorily, everyone else does an okay job but whether vanity or delusion induced Depp to accept this utterly remote and inapposite role is anyone's guess. Shorn of his former beauty, comfy pirate cosplay or fucktacular Burtonian staging, his inability to project much more than canned tics past that old man drag is laid pretty bare. Were there really no other, more appropriate candidates? Whatever. Black Mass was overlong, overpopulated, overly into itself and fucking unrewarding.