There has been a lot of Oscar buzz regarding Johnny Depp’s performance in the new film Black Mass, and after watching it, those praises are warranted.
The last couple of years haven’t really given us too many of the great Johnny Depp performances that we have become accustomed to. That’s not a indictment on Johnny, but more towards the roles he has chosen and the scripts that have been written.
Depp has found great success in taking on odd and unconventional roles, and even breathing new life into stereotypical characters. The man, who refuses to watch his own movies, finally caught a break with his portrayal as James J. Bulger, the notorious crime lord of south Boston.
In case you are not familiar with the Boston Kingpin they nicknamed “Whitey,” I recommend checking out the documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (Cdn Netflix) and the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Playing for the Mob (USA Netflix). Those documentaries will give you a great history lesson on one of America’s most notorious gangsters.
In a nutshell, Whitey Bulger was a man that went from small time Southie hoodlum to one of the biggest gangsters the USA has ever seen. Why? Bulger, with the help of the FBI, was able to rid himself of his enemies, like the Italian Mob, and take over large portions of Boston. Once power and money were attained, Whitey was able to put his hands on other legitimate and illegitimate businesses across the country, and in doing so, he built one heck of a criminal empire.
Black Mass is directed by Scott Cooper and is based on the 2000 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.
Besides Depp’s incredible performance, the film also includes a fantastic supporting cast with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons and more. We also have more actors to add to the game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon as Bacon plays FBI agent Charles McGuire.
There are some fantastic cameos from actors that you may or may not recognize. Even Sienna Miller, who was originally in the film, had a role that was actually left on the cutting room floor.
That’s the thing about this film, as my colleague Steve Stebbing (film reviewer at CKNW and League of Manchildren) mentioned, is that it appears Black Mass was a much longer film that was ruthlessly edited down to two hours. There are some scenes that looked like they were chopped together instead of flowing smoothly like how the director probably originally envisioned.
Depp absolutely throws himself into the role of Bulger where he becomes unrecognizable, and his performance is one of the biggest reasons to see this film. There are times where he makes you sympathetic to the character, but then there are scenes where he’s absolutely terrifying with his ice cold stare and demonic laugh.
There is a scene between Depp and actor Julianne Nicholson (who plays the wife of FBI agent John Connelly) that has to be considered one of the creepiest and most intense scenes of the year.
Not to be outdone, Joel Edgerton also gives one of his most memorable performances as the dirty FBI agent John Connolly, who forms an unholy alliance with Bulger in order to help the gangster build his empire. It’s rather fantastic to see the details that Edgerton gives to the role of Connolly as he transforms into a dirty FBI agent. Keep an eye out for the subtle nuances in his performance.
Benedict Cumberbatch is also superb as Bulger’s powerful brother, Senator William “Billy” Bulger. There is nothing that this actor can’t do, including putting on a great Bostonian accent. There were scenes where Cumberbatch didn’t have say much as his facial expressions told the whole story.
Overall the film is solid. The story follows Bulger’s life including some of his own personal losses. It will be interesting to see if there is a director’s cut that will be available on DVD and video on demand.
Warner Brothers and the powers that be probably could have gotten away with allowing Black Mass to be an epic three hour affair. That said, the life of Whitey Bulger probably could have been a five-part-miniseries.
This film will become an award darling, and I fully expect that this will garner Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination and possibly a supporting nomination for Joel Edgerton. This is a very violent and edgy crime drama that takes you on a bit of a roller coaster ride through the dark underbelly of organized crime. Black Mass is definitely a must see, and I rate it 4 out of 5 rain drops.