Not many actors have had careers as varied and eclectic as Johnny Depps. He has acted in films of almost every genre under the sun and played every type of character you could dream of from the most unusual and imaginative to real life characters that he just seems to nail. Black Mass, his new film about real life criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, has Depp playing one of the most brutal roles of his career as well as one of the most unrecognizable.
James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) was just another Irish kid in Boston but as he crew older he rose in the criminal ranks. With a brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), in the state senate and a deal with a crooked FBI agent (Joel Edgerton), Whitey played everybody to get what he wanted until he was the godfather of the Irish Mob and effectively using the FBI for his own purposes making his one of the most notorious criminals in US history and on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
If you put Black Mass up against some of the other mob movies of the past few decades, Goodfellas, State of Grace, The Departed…it doesn’t really stand out as a truly exceptional mob thriller. That is not to say it isn’t entertaining, it is. It just doesn’t reach the heights those films do. But it has one major thing going for it alongside those great films and that is Depp’s performance. Depp is so freaking good in Black Mass it is scary. Not only is his makeup spectacular but his performance is devoid of any trademark Depp mannerisms. He is totally and absolutely Whitey Bulger. The rest of the cast is excellent as well but Depp is really center stage here and for good reason. In a career full of breakthrough performances this is truly one of his most impactful and incredible. You will be hard pressed to see Depp in the character of Bulger, it is that good. And the film itself is still very entertaining and is an interesting story of a criminal that took advantage of law enforcement for his own criminal career progression. It’s really something how Bulger managed to manipulate so many people to achieve his own goals. This was a con artist of the highest caliber.
Credit should also be given to director Scott Cooper who has only directed two other films, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace. Both of those films had a very unique, dark and specific feel to them and Black Mass works well on the same levels. Cooper has a very distinct style and I hope to see much more from him after these three films. Black Mass is definitely recommended.