Well, I guess all I can say about “Black Mass” is it’s good to see Johnny Depp actually acting again… Nah, I have more to say than that!
“Black Mass” is director Scott Cooper’s (“Crazy Heart” (2009), “Out of the Furnace” (2013)) third film, and it’s a standard true crime tale of James “Whitey” Bulger. Bulger was the most notorious gangster in South Boston who used his status as an informant to not only take down a rival faction, but to get away with his myriad of crimes.
Depp plays Bulger in his hundredth makeup-fueled role, but unlike the last six movies he’s been in, Depp is acting here! Depp disappears into his role as Bulger and is terrifying, funny, and charismatic. He also leads an all-star supporting cast of solid performances.
Joel Edgerton continues to prove his talent as Bulger’s corrupt FBI agent friend, John Connolly. Connolly is currently serving a 40-year sentence for being Bulger’s accomplice and in this movie, Edgerton portrays Connolly as a man full of regret for his actions. We also get some solid work from Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”), and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) as suspicious Connolly’s FBI colleagues, Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s politician brother, and the underrated Peter Sarsgaard as an unhinged business associate of Bulger’s.
Sadly, a reviving performance from Depp and this cast isn’t enough to make up for a flawed script. The problem with a lot of true crime stories such as “Black Mass” or last year’s “Foxcatcher” (sorry, I found it boring) is that they focus on a fascinating criminal, but show us the least interesting part of the story. I didn’t want to know about Connolly’s struggles covering his own ass; I wanted to know more about Bulger’s struggles covering his!
The first half of the film is strong and we see Bulger as a dangerous and respected criminal who’s levelheaded about his own crimes. By the end of the first hour, we see what drove him overboard. At the second hour, “Black Mass” transitions into a standard police drama. We could have learned more about Bulger’s estranged relationship with his brother, but instead were stuck watching Connolly protect his job and marriage.
We’ll likely see Depp walk into the upcoming award season, but he’s ultimately the most redeemable quality of an otherwise generic and uneven film.