Review: Depp’s ‘Black Mass’

Johnny Depp has been caught in a rough streak as of late with less-than-stellar films such as Transcendence, Lone Ranger, and Mortdecai. Despite this, his recent performances are just as odd and inspired as his early work.

His depictions of Ed Wood and Hunter S. Thompson are as bizarre and creative as his acting choices for characters like Barnabas Collins in “Dark Shadows” and Guy LaPointe in “Tusk.” The key difference? His current batch of movies seem to be lacking in quality. With his latest film “Black Mass,” Depp has found a role that lives up to his talent.

Depp plays James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious south Boston criminal who topped the F.B.I.’s most wanted list for over fifteen years. The film chronicles Bulger’s relationship with Federal Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) as an informant who gave up information on his criminal enemies, while being given free reign by the authorities. Things come to a screeching halt as Bulger’s behavior becomes increasingly more violent and erratic.

While this film will inevitably be compared to other gangster films like “GoodFellas” and “The Departed,” “Black Mass” feels closer in tone with 70s classics like “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” and “Mean Streets.” There is a gritty vibe surrounding the characters and locations that not only serve the time period, but showcases the filmmaker’s love of 70s cinema.

This is director Scott Cooper’s third film. His chilly cinematic outlook is as bleak and forlorn as with his previous works, but there is a burst of energy provided by his leading actor that his other works lack.

Depp is both mesmerizing and repulsive as Bulger. He is sweet and charming one moment and cold and emotionless the next, convincing in every moment. While some of his performances have come across as grand caricatures, his work on “Black Mass” never comes across as acting.

The star-studded cast delivers career-high performances with Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll making the most of their brief screen time, but of the supporting cast, it is David Harbour as Connolly’s unsure superior who steals the show.

This is a hard hitting crime drama that knows how to sustain tension in its quieter moments along with flashier violent sequences. “Black Mass” is a fast-paced, well-written, and superbly acted crime drama that many are sure to enjoy.