It’s been way too long since Johnny Depp has actually been in a role that wasn’t a comically overblown weirdo in a unfunny script. I think we’ve had enough pirate shenanigans from him, though vexingly there is yet another Pirates of the Caribbean movie to come, and surely Jonathan Frid of Dark Shadows fame should have been appalled at Tim Burton and Depp’s version of their Barnabas Collins. And Transendence? Yikes. And let’s not forget his weird, out-of-place wolf from Into The Woods. And we’ll just skip over Mortdecai, shall we? So, yeah, it’s been a while since Depp has taken on a solid acting role – until now.
Black Mass is a pretty solid crime thriller. Depp plays James “Whitey” Bulger, South Boston’s most infamous and violent crime boss. The brother of a respected state senator, Bulger became an FBI informant in order to eliminate the mafia that was taking over his turf.
Depp is most certainly menacing – and downright brutal at times – as Whitey Bulger. He commands pretty much every scene he is in, which is a lot. This is the best we’ve seen of Depp in quite a while, but that’s not to say he is perfect, or that there aren’t other great people in Black Mass. In fact, the supporting cast is stellar. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey’s senator brother with an excellent Boston accent. You can always count on “Benny Cumbo”, as Graham likes to call him. Ha. Also excellent are Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly, who conceived the idea to approach Whitey for information, as well as acting as his handler. Also great are Kevin Bacon as FBI man Charles McGuire, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane as Steve Flemmi, Whitey’s right hand man, Jesse Plemmons, Peter Sarsgaard, W. Earl Brown as John Martorano, Whitey’s hitman. Everybody is great, but – sadly there is a ‘but’ – The story doesn’t really dig much deeper than the basics of the parts these people played.
We could use a bit more of the relationship of Whitey Bulger and his senator brother, Billy. The two most powerful men in Boston at the time, and they do little more than show us that they’re still pretty close despite living on opposite sides of the law. It just seems like that relationship should have been explored a bit more.
There are some really great scenes in Black Mass, though, and most of them are with Johnny Depp. His appearance is changed; receding hairline, a sort of pale complexion, wonky teeth, and those eyes…Ok, if there is one thing I’d have not done, it’s give Depp those light colored eyes. It’s really obvious that they are contacts, and frankly, it took me out of the film well past the halfway point. By the time I was used to them, the movie was into its’ third act. But hey, who knows if that was Depp’s choice, or the make-up/director or whoever. They probably should have thought that through more.
If you see this, I recommend watching the documentary on Netflix, Whitey: United States of America v James J. Bulger. I watched it first, and I think I had a little trouble referring to it too much in my head. See Black Mass – which is worth seeing, THEN go home and watch the doc. It will put a lot of what happened in context. Black Mass gets 3 and a half kittenhands, a lot of which is for Johnny Depp. He’s good here, but I don’t know if I’d go throwing the word “Oscar” around just yet.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie goer, realizing that we’re gogni to get more of the Mad Hatter Depp, too. Oy.