'Black Mass' film review: Depp delivers chilling, Best Actor-caliber performance
In short: Violent Boston mobster "Whitey" Bulger (Depp) becomes an FBI informant as a means to protect himself from prosecution, eliminate rival criminals and enable his rise to power in South Boston. Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon also star. (Watch the trailer)
Believe the hype: Johnny Depp has returned to form, not merely as a serious actor - but as a legitimate Best Actor contender this Award Season. His version of "Whitey" Bulger commands every scene he is in - his icy, intense stare is that of a cold-blooded killer. But Depp also fleshes out the infamous criminal with a genuine soft spot for his mother and his son - and a man who is capable of a boisterous charm -- but a charm that can instantly turn into menace.
A scene that will surely pop-up on Depp's "Black Mass" highlight reel is a dinner scene between Bulger and his two FBI contacts - and it's a simple scene discussing a recipe. In this one seemingly mundane scene, Bulger goes from intimidating to gregarious to joking to threatening to unnerving -- and back to playful. Depp fully realizes a character who can believably tease and patiently play a card game with his mother, loving dote on his son -- then shoot a friend in the head or kill a person with his bear hands.
Unfortunately, Depp's excellent performance is much better than the movie he is in. "Black Mass" is a perfectly fine to OK movie, but it only has a pulse when Depp is on screen.
Like all "rise and fall" dramas, "Black Mass" is too comprehensive to tell a focused narrative. In trying to cover 20 years worth of events, this movie has a few too many underdeveloped/rushed plot elements. Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll and Juno Temple all play characters who suddenly pop into the narrative -- and just as abruptly disappear completely from the story. They are talking plot points, left with very little character depth or development. Johnson and Sarsgaard (in particular) do their best to create interesting characters - and they shine despite their somewhat thin characters.
In terms of storytelling, "Black Mass" simply tries to accomplish far too much in attempting to tell a story that spans 20 years and packing it with a ton of characters who drop in and out of the narrative. It's hard to care about events or characters when the audience barely has a chance to become attached to said events/characters.
Final verdict: Depp has made a strong claim to the Best Actor title with his incredible performance. This gripping drama benefits greatly from an incredible, career revitalizing performance.
"Black Mass" opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 18. This crime drama is rated R for for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use.