Black Mass

Directed By: Scott Cooper

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, and Dakota Johnson

Johnny Depp's career has hit a trough in recent years.  Despite the billion dollar successes of Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides several years ago, film duds such as The Tourist, Dark Shadows, Transcendence, and The Lone Ranger loom large on his recent filmography.  Believe me, these duds are just the tip of the iceberg for Captain Jack Sparrow.  The tide may be turning though, if his turn this weekend as notorious criminal Whitey Bulger is any indication at all.

Whitey Bulger (Depp) is a relatively well-connected small-time crook in South Boston.  Despite having Massachusetts State Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) for a brother, this influence doesn't extend to the political or government arenas during his early years.  Ties are strong in Southie, however.  When hungry FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), another Southie resident, walks back into Whitey's life, his network begins to expand.   Connolly offers Whitey the opportunity to rat on his competition on the north side of Boston.  In exchange for his cooperation with law enforcement, Whitey will receive immunity from criminal prosecution.

It's safe to say that Whitey prospers from the deal he makes with Agent Connolly.  Despite agreeing not to deal narcotics or to murder anyone, Whitey quickly begins amassing power in the drug world and leaving a trail of bodies in Boston and beyond.  Whitey's fruitful relationship with the FBI aside, Connolly's colleagues Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) and Robert Fitzpatrick (Adam Scott) want to take down their talkative rat. They see him as an existential threat to the streets of Boston.  As fate would have it, they have no idea how right they are as one of the most infamous criminals in American history ascends to notoriety.  Meanwhile, both Whitey and Connolly have problems with the ladies in their lives - Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson) and Marianne Connolly (Julianne Nicholson) respectively.

Black Mass
has renewed my faith in Johnny Depp.  Though the true story of James "Whitey" Bulger is something out of this world, the recounting of it is relatively mundane in comparison.  With Boston-based films like The Departed and The Town occupying prime real estate in cinematic history, this latest gangster movie in Southie treads very familiar territory.  What elevates the otherwise above average crime drama Black Mass is Depp's chilling, psychotic performance as our lead character.  He steps onto the big screen and reminds us just how talented he is with his menacing looks, his spontaneous ferocity, and his impressive reincarnation of a widely known public figure.  It's a gripping, haunting performance that I'm sure will be remembered as awards season moves forward.  Captain Jack's comeback may just be getting started with this bold turn on the big screen.

While Depp's outstanding performance looms large, his co-stars offer some pretty impressive contrasting performances as well.  For his part as slippery FBI agent John Connolly, Joel Edgerton delivers a rather aggressive performance.  He's a guy willing to do anything in his power to get ahead.  He's actually the antithesis of Depp's Bulger in that he contends with the same pressures of this criminal lifestyle in a much more cowardly and expressive way.  For his part as Senator Billy Bulger, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a fairly polished, quietly honorable performance that's in stark contrast with Depp as his icy older brother Whitey.  Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, and David Harbour, who all deliver excellent performances as well.

With this post, I've done something uncharacteristic of my typical reviews.  I've commented on the performances from the cast before really giving my thoughts on the director and his work.  As I mentioned previously, Black Mass is above average but fails to achieve greatness.  The blame mostly sits at the feet of director Scott Cooper and his crew.  There's the grayish, gritty cinematography to set the grim scene.  There's the thunderous bass pulsating in the score to add some chills.  There's even the subtitled update on each of the character's lives prior to the end credits rolling. As today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the iconic Goodfellas, this wise guy has to say that these are all familiar tricks of the trade from Cooper.  He brings nothing to the table that would make Black Mass stand out from the pack, aside from his cast.

Black Mass
gets a 0.03% rating because Depp and his fellow cast members put on one hell of a show.  Have a few wine coolers with this one.