After delivering performances which have been over the top Johnny Depp comes through as a powerhouse actor that he is in his role as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass. Since Pirates of the Caribbean became a worldwide box office phenomenon Depp has struggled to step away from characters which allow him to be over the top. The physical transformation of Depp to Whitey is telling though the prosthetic distracts the performance. Depp revels in his role and his performance is electrifying, yet the performance does not stand out in comparison to Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed which was inspired by Bulger.
James “Whitey” Bulger is a street hood and a South Boston local boy who is fanatic about loyalty and does not stand rats. The movie opens with an taperecorder on a table with a voice saying “I am not a Rat” and Johnny Depp walks through the entire movie saying the same figuratively as he cuts a deal with the FBI. Bulger’s effort to become a greater influence over Boston are stymied by the Italian Mafia. The virtual floodgate opens for Bulger when FBI agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton) strikes a deal with his old friend Bulger. Connelly himself a local boy has grown through the ranks allows his fawning to cloud his reasoning. Connelly can’t forget how Whitey and his brother Senator William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) were good to him during his childhood. The brush of naivete paints Edgerton’s performance as the Connelly is under-written and over-acted. Benedict Cumberbatch is wasted in his role as Whitey’s brother and it suffers from a under-written character. Cumberbatch drops his British accent for a fake Boston one.
Depp revels in his role and his performance is electrifying
Black Mass stands on its feet purely on the performance of its strong cast who deliver their best despite the fallacies of badly developed characters and weak screenplay. Director Scott Cooper had a fantastic opportunity to narrate a story of man who is as menacing as pale he is in his complexion, yet Cooper fails in his attempt and comparison with Martin Scorsese are inevitable. The film follows the standard fare of most gangster movies and is rigid as it follows the formula. The film has been setup on the theme of betrayal and loyalty, though it seems Cooper developed weak legs and lets the theme get out of his hand as the viewer is quite often treated to montages upon montages of Bulger killing people and getting richer. Overall it is a pretty standard fare but could have been much better given the fine real life tale of Whitey Bulger.
Cooper placed too much on the shoulders of Depp to single handedly carry the movie. Depp does definitely create the most entertaining moments of the movie and delivers a power packed performance which is in right parts subdued and imminent. Every time he was presented with an opportunity he took control of the scene and slowly but surely he turns sinister. The film is not without its moment that raises your heartbeats and Depp has to take due credit for being able to do that purely on his performance. Cooper does try to humanize the animal that Bulger was but sadly that trick falls flat on its face as Bulger was always the same through out the movie even when two deaths of people close to him are said to have changed him.
Black Mass held lot of promise but does not completely deliver on it. Johnny Depp redeems himself as an versatile actor who can do more than wacky roles like Captain Jack Sparrow. Black Mass is a movie that stands tall purely on their performances of its cast.