Depp Outperforms Script in Black Mass

by Joseph Walsh
Class of 2016

There are few actors as versatile and uninhibited as Johnny Depp. Over his 30-plus year career, he has disappeared into each of his roles seamlessly. Films such as Donnie Brasco, Blow, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? have all showcased his unique ability to transform into character and bring forth the eccentricities of any script he gets his hands on. Unfortunately, over the past decade, Depp has chosen to use his talents on an endless stream of bizarre, make-up covered characters with seemingly no distinguishable characteristics; the talent is undoubtedly there, yet Depp has chosen to hinder himself. Fortunately for film fans, last weekend’s film Black Mass shatters this trend.

Black Mass is the story of notorious South Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his alliance with the FBI that allowed him to operate his criminal enterprise unchecked for decades. Depp’s performance as Bulger is nothing short of breathtaking; the unadulterated brutality combined with the inherent familiarity of Depp’s portrayal is unapologetic and gut-wrenching. Every line he utters is mesmerizing, and an Oscar nomination seems all but certain.

The surrounding cast is no less impressive. Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Gift) steals several scenes as John Connolly, the FBI agent who teams with Bulger in order to take down the North End Italian mafia. Edgerton and Depp play off of each other expertly, as Edgerton puts forth a layered depiction of a man trying desperately to balance ambition and morality.

The rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to the stellar performances, as the plot is rather shallow. The relationships Bulger and Connolly have with secondary characters are never fully explored, and development in certain dynamics of Bulger’s life are lacking. Despite what the advertisements would have you believe, Black Mass is not an account of Bulger’s entire criminal career, but rather an exploration into his involvement with the FBI. Eventually the film becomes more of a serial killer movie than the Scorcese-esque mob thriller many are hoping for. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) captures the grit and brutality that the story calls for.

Overall Black Mass is a solid, suspense filled thriller, brought to the next level by spectacular performances.
Rating 4/5

Black Mass is rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use