Devin King | Staff Reporter
Published Sept. 18, 2015; 10 a.m.
From now on, when I think of Johnny Depp, there will always be part of me that will immediately picture him with a receding hairline, aviators, denim jeans and a black leather jacket in a menacing cross armed pose in his best performance in years as the ruthless James “Whitey” Bulger in “Black Mass.”
Directed by Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace”), “Black Mass” is the true story of the rise and fall of organized crime leader James “Whitey” Bulger in Boston. After a turn of events, Bulger becomes an FBI informant for many years in order to take down rival gangs. This also allows Bulger to avoid punishment for numerous crimes he commits while rising in power.
Bulger is not just a one-note villain. He is the product of personal tragedies, as well as poor decisions made by those around him. Not only does the film do a great job of bringing the character to life, but the characters around Bulger are just as fleshed out.
The narration is done in a very traditional way for biopics. Times skips are made, multiple scenes center around famous events and epilogues for the main characters are given as captions over images of the main characters. It is not a bad thing, but more of a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. If there is any flaw to be found in the film, it is that the narration is played a little too familiar to other biopics.
The performances are the absolute highlight of “Black Mass.” The cast is stellar overall, with multiple actors going beyond the material that they were given, but it should come as no surprise that Depp delivers a very potent performance. Depp completely disappears into his role, which might be the first time since 1994’s “Ed Wood.” Surprisingly enough, co-star Joel Edgerton arguably steals the show as FBI agent John Connolly. Connolly’s character goes through some dramatic changes and Edgerton is able to capitalize on this in every scene.
While the writing, acting and pacing are all above average, the aesthetics of the film seem to just do the job asked and nothing more. As a darker, more serious story, the sound design is relatively quiet, giving it a more serious tone. The cinematography captures everything it needs to, but besides some dramatic shots during tense scenes, it never does anything too interesting.
Overall, “Black Mass” lives up to the reputation that Bulger had made for himself in throughout the late 70s and 80s. It is scary, tragic and all around a force to be reckoned with. After a series of weaker films, this is a great start to a promising fall lineup.