There was a span of films, quite a lot actually, that made me ask a question to myself about if Johnny Depp was no longer an actor worth defending. With flop after flop on his films, even if he was serviceable, the desire to see a film with Johnny Depp was all but gone in a pit of disappointment and sorrow, but then Scott Cooper came to my and Depp’s aid and gave us a film worth paying to see. Black Mass is director Scott Cooper’s third outing as a feature director with his prior films being Crazy Heart which led Jeff Bridges to a long awaited Best-Actor Oscar and the tension filled Out of the Furnace.
The topic of Cooper’s latest film centers on the crime driven life of James “Whitey” Bulger, Boston’s most infamous criminal who ended up becoming one of America’s most wanted criminals in later years. Depp, through some heavy make-up, transforms like he always does to become the Boston crime-lord dawning some frightening contact lenses, and a flawless Boston accent. Through murder, corruption, and twisted friendships with one FBI Agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), we are thrust into a life where loyalty is tested and where hero worship leads to obsession, and obsession that can later drown you in the pool you chose to fill up.
Cooper has a great talent for setting up tension through the atmosphere of his film while laying down exquisite shots of the city of Boston and the infamous Southie that we tend to hear all about. Through the film, there is an air of chaos through the a gangster code that comes with crime thriller/dramas, but rather than sprinkle in the dark humor of Scorsese, Cooper chooses wisely by letting the story do it’s own thing. What that turns out to become is an ensemble cast convince us they are corrupt by the way of criminals and power and it is not a world you look at as glamorous or glossy like other gangster films, instead, this is the brutal nature of a psychotic nut job with the cunning of a Joker , and the intellect of a Hannibal Lector all wrapped in one.
At first, the concern for Depp is the make-up, a fair concern if you’ve only seen the trailer, but rest assured it takes no more than a minute to get by the make-up. Depp has become many things since he hit Hollywood, but he has never terrified us as much as he has as Jimmy Bulger. He has been a pirate, a vampire, a hit-man, and a guy with scissors for hands, but this is the role Depp has needed to prove to us once again that he is force to be reckoned with. Joel Edgerton is name to focus on once Oscar season comes as well. Edgerton excellently embodies a clouded man whose obsession with his childhood friend/hero leading him to a world no one hopes he’d go. It’s the people that think they are doing right that eventually become the best antagonists and Edgerton takes his acting to another stratosphere with this one.
The supporting cast is also remarkable from; Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch (is “okay” but nothing special), Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochran, and so on, but until the next few months grant us the pleasures of other contending films, Black Mass could already two locked up candidates for Best-Actor and Best-Supporting Actor. But with such remarkable performances, it’s almost disappointing that the film is only two and a half hours long. Even with such a lengthy run-time, it zooms by you like nothing even happened and has you salivating for more. With so much history on Bulger, we only saw so much in so little time which makes sense for films nowadays, but this could have served as a gangster epic like the crime films of late.
Black Mass is trying tirelessly to figure out if it’s a biopic or simply a “Whitey Bulger movie” because it does give us insight into what made Bulger who he was from his gangster prime until later years, but it jumps back to being simply a movie with him as the character. This is not a weakness of the film that ruins the movie, but it goes back to the point of it possibly serving better either as a longer film or a more decisive movie. Thankfully, as a huge fan of crime dramas and gangster and Johnny Depp, it’s nice to see quality results from all bolts of this well oiled machine. Though occasionally clunky due to the direction of the film (though this is minute), Depp brings some of the eeriest scenes to screen that we’ve seen from him and an all around great performances by a veteran while Cooper shows he is improving to be bettering his work behind the camera and getting great performances from his actors, definitely worth seeing.