Johnny Depp’s still got it.
After a series of duds, Depp’s acting and film choices made us question his ability as an actor. But as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Scott Cooper’s gangster drama “Black Mass”, Depp gives one of his best performances to date and proves why he is one of the best actors in Hollywood.
Told through the stories of Bulger’s henchmen, we start in 1975 with Bulger as a small-time, yet intimidating force in Boston’s Southie projects. Bulger makes a deal with F.B.I agent and childhood friend John Connelly (Joel Edgerton) to trade secrets and information amongst each other for the betterment of both their lives. These secrets lead to the fall of Bulger’s biggest enemy, the north side Italians, and eventually allows Bulger to become the mob kingpin of Boston, while Connelly moves up the ranks at the Beureu. With personal tragedies occurring in Bulger’s life and the partnership with Connelly beginning to suffer, Bulger turns Boston into a blood soaked, drug filled city that would eventually lead to the end of his partnership with the Beureu, Connelly, and his empire and make Bulger one of the most notorious criminals in United States history.
Director Scott Cooper and screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, keep the story relatively contained, only expanding a little over a decade instead of giving us Bulger’s entire life story. This allows us to really know the characters and get a full grasp of who these people really are. We see the evil in Bulger and the greed of Connelly. We see the goodness of Bulger’s Senator brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) and feel for relationship of the Bulger brothers, even with limited screen time.
After two impressive efforts directing “Crazy Heart” (2009) and the criminally under-seen “Out of the Furnace” (2013), Cooper makes his best movie to date. Cooper is quickly proving that he is an actors director. He directed Jeff Bridges to his long overdue Oscar in “Crazy Heart” and gave us one of Christian Bale’s most subdued performances in “Out of the Furnace”. His work in “Black Mass” is one of greatness, directing dynamite performances from the a star-studded cast and taking us into the heart of a man that is pure evil. Cooper doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality of Bulger. He is makes us fear Bulger with continuous scenes of violence, grit, and tension.
As I said in the above paragraph, the cast is phenomenal. Everyone brings their A-game in this one. Edgerton is the perfect amount of scumbag and American hero that makes us love him. It’s definitely the best performance of his career. Rory Cochrane is impressive as Bulger’s number one Steve Flemmi. Julianne Nicholson is captivating as Connelly’s wife and the only person who see’s Bulger for who he really is. We get excellent supporting turns from veterans Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, and Peter Sarsgaard. Even Dakota Johnson makes up for “Fifty Shades of Grey” as the strong willed, grief stricken girlfriend.
But this is Depp’s movie and he knows it. He isn’t phoning it in like he has in been. From the haunting blue eyes, wicked smile, and perfect accent, Depp becomes Bulger. This isn’t like Depp’s usual roles. Bulger is a cold blooded, greedy gangster with no soul or care for anyone else around him. If you look at a cop, you were dead. If you knew someone who didn’t like him, you were dead. It didn’t matter if you were a stranger on the street or family, Bulger would kill you if he was threatened. It is because of Depp’s charisma and talent that we can empathize with such a hideous human being. He carries “Black Mass” on his shoulders all the way, making it one of the year’s best movies and one of the best performances of Depp’s career.
MY RATING – 4/4
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