In 1970s Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy, the Italian mob. Black Mass tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to become one of the most ruthless gangsters in U.S. history.
Directing can be thought of like this: give a person various ammunition and gunpowder, and see how big of a bang he or she can make. And there’s no doubt that the greatest weapon in director Scott Cooper’s arsenal is Johnny Depp. His performance as infamous Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is mesmerizingly haunting. With piercing blue eyes and an apt demonic appearance, the make-up team’s magnificent work allowed for Depp to walk in and completely knock it out of the park.
To those who’re running down the streets, screaming, “Johnny Depp is back!” at the top of their lungs, I would ask: did he ever really leave? Or has he been here all along, tainted by the less-than-decent films he’s appeared in? I’d put my money on the latter because, even with his most atrocious movies, he always loses himself in his characters. And that’s what acting is all about.
If there’s anyone that can rival Depp’s work in Black Mass, it would have to be Joel Edgerton, who actually ends up stealing the spotlight more than a few times and downright nailing it throughout the film. His character, placed at the center of the plot, is about as sympathetic as a corrupt FBI agent could possibly be, in a movie filled with unlikable characters. However, Depp and Edgerton aren’t the only selling points here; Cooper is a filmmaker who’s capable of working exceptionally well with ensembles. And with a cast as impressive as this: Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Corey Stoll just to name a few, it’s hard to pinpoint a single weak link.
This is the mob movie that fans of the genre have been waiting forever for; it’s brutal, refreshing, and impossible to look away from. The story, however, is quite dense, and occasional issues with pacing don’t enhance the script. But the performances are what make it digestible, and what, ultimately, makes Black Mass one of the year’s best.