Review: Black Mass Features A Terrifying Johnny Depp
Title: Black Mass
Director: Scott Cooper
Screenwriter: Mark Mallouk (screenplay), Jez Butterworth (screenplay), Dick Lehr (book), and Gerard O’Neill (screenplay)
Principal Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, and Jesse Plemons
Summary: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
Boston area crime dramas have exploded in the last few years, but the area does have a very interesting history with organized crime. There are quite a few pros and cons to basing a movie on real life, some of which I mentioned in my review of Everest, in that real life isn’t often as narratively driven as movies are. The story of Black Mass and Boston area gangster Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger and his violent history is ripe for a movie. However, it is also a story that could be very hard to tell in a captivating way, and the casting of Johnny Depp as Whitey had me a little nervous. Depp hasn’t been in a movie where his acting was the best part in a long time and many people, including myself, had assumed he had done his time and was just coasting for the next couple of years.
Black Mass is a fantastically atmospheric crime drama with some great performances with Depp being the stand out by being just plain terrifying.
As I was watching Black Mass the movie I kept coming back to was Foxcatcher. The movies aren’t similar in story at all, but in tone and atmosphere they are on the same wave length. As I said during last week’s review of The Visit, a good horror film is full of atmosphere that is so thick and heavy that it sits on your shoulders like a piece of whale blubber. Black Mass and Foxcatcher aren’t horror movies but they absolutely nail what atmosphere is supposed to be. Throughout the entire running time there is this lingering feeling that Whitey (Johnny Depp) is three seconds away from killing every single person in a room with his bare hands. He carries this weight of danger on him that never goes away and it makes every scene he’s in incredibly tense. As Whitey begins to further corrupt FBI Agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), his presence begins to spread to other people and he doesn’t even need to be in the room to be terrifying.
This type of performance is really credited to Depp as an actor. While we all knew that Depp could act, it seemed like he was choosing not to in the recent years. Maybe he was waiting for a role like this to come thundering back to the forefront of great actors. He has great backup, though, with Edgerton turning in his second great performance of the year. Benedict Cumberbatch is Whitey’s Senator brother, Billy, and while he doesn’t have a lot of screentime the time that is dedicated to him is pretty great. He doesn’t feel as dangerous as Depp’s Whitey, but when he feels threatened he shows that Billy wasn’t so different from his ultra violent brother. There are scattered other small roles that are great such as Corey Stoll, Adam Scott and David Harbour. There aren’t many women of note in this movie since we’re dealing with gangsters in the mid to late 1970’s and 1980’s, but Julianne Nicholson does a great job as Marianne Connolly as the only person in Boston who is, rightfully, afraid of Whitey and what he is capable of.
This is the third movie by director Scott Cooper and he seems to have a knack for picking up great material. He captures the feeling of Boston in this era fairly brilliantly. He doesn’t drip the movie in bright colors of the 70’s and 80’s but instead goes for more of dull look that comes from living in the city. Cooper, combined with writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, do a fairly good job at keeping the pace, but the movie does have over a two hour running time. However, near the end of the third act, the pacing seems to stumble even more and the movie nearly loses all momentum. We see everything come crashing down but not in a very satisfying way. The end of the movie feels anticlimactic but it’s not nearly enough to ruin the movie. I’m not sure what could have been a better ending, but it just feels like all of the air was let out of the movie and it was just sputtering to a close.
Black Mass is a very good movie that has one of the best, if not the best, performance by Johnny Depp. While the ending isn’t the best the rest of the movie is good enough that it doesn’t really hurt it. This is a movie people are going to be talking about and I highly recommend you give it a look.