AM At The Movies: ‘Black Mass’

Johnny Depp stars in Scott Cooper's crime film 'Black Mass'
Johnny Depp stars in Scott Cooper's crime film 'Black Mass'

Black Mass
Starring:
Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)
Run Time: 122 minutes

Black Mass is a solid flick – a blend of killing and corruption in South Boston with a deep and talented cast that does a very good job of detailing the dangerous alliance between gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly.

The trouble is that it’s one of those movies where the fact that Johnny Depp is the lead actually feels like a detriment.

There are times when Depp being a part of the ensemble is able to elevate a film above the mediocre landing place it would have otherwise found, but there are also instances where even though he’s aged and balding and sporting a grey, dead front tooth, you still see “Johnny Depp, Hollywood Superstar” and it kind of detracts from everything else around it.

And that’s what happens here.

It’s not Depp isn’t convincing either; he’s one of the best actors of his generation and turns in another solid performance as the menacing former small-time crook who rose to be a permanent fixture on the FBI’s most wanted list before finally being apprehended a handful of years ago.

The problem – at least for me – is that instead of seeing James “Whitey” Bulger, you see Johnny Depp playing “Whitey” Bulger and you can’t shake it.

It doesn’t happen with anyone else in the picture or many other actors in general for that matter. There is just something so striking and engrained in your memory about Depp that it’s difficult to not see him first, even when he’s turning in a strong performance.

Why that is troubling – again, at least for me – is because so many other people crush it in this movie.

Joel Edgerton delivers a breakout performance as Connolly, the neighborhood kid that becomes a fed and feeds information to Bulger. Peter Sarsgaard is at his twitchy best as a coked-out criminal. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane and Corey Stoll all drop compact gems, and Juno Temple’s brief turn jumps off the screen because Temple is a little spitfire.

It’s one of those cases where someone other than Depp deflects a little more attention to the stellar work of the supporting cast – not literally, but figuratively because you’re not as transfixed on them – and I came away wanted to see more with everyone else and a little less off Depp’s Bulger, who is in almost every minute of the two-hour movie.

It probably also doesn’t help that (a) there have been a couple good documentaries about Bulger made in recent years and (b) Jack Nicholson used the infamous gangster as his inspiration for his character, Costello, in The Departed and blew that performance out of the water.

Still, Black Mass is an interesting real life tale of crime and corruption in South Boston with several strong performances that is worth checking out.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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