Johnny Depp has given a lot of great performances in his career…just not lately. With his portrayal of ruthless gangster Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger in director Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” , Depp is generating the most positive buzz since he played Sweeney Todd on screen back in 2007.
Often it’s the Depp performance that either makes or breaks the movie he’s in. But that’s really not the case with “Black Mass” because both Depp and the film are simply just OK.
A star-studded ensemble accompanies, but never overshadows, Depp, led by Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly, who was boyhood friends with both Jimmy and his brother Billy Bulger, growing-up in tough South Boston. Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who struggles with his Boston accent) has become a powerful Massachusetts senator. And Jimmy, well, let’s just say he and his pals have been “taking care of business”.
Set in the 70s, and based on real-life events, “Black Mass” begins with Connolly and the FBI convincing Jimmy to become an informant so they can get information on the notorious Italian mob that rules the north side of the city. And over the course of the film, as Connolly’s boss (played by Kevin Bacon) and others keep telling him that the alliance with Whitey is a mistake, Connolly’s loyalty and ambition allow Bulger to expand his crime empire.
Unlike in the classic mob movies, the best scenes in “Black Mass” take place during quiet times, including two exchanges between Depp and Dakota Johnson, from “Fifty Shades of Grey”, who plays Bulger’s wife. A conversation that Whitey has with their young son at the breakfast table is quirky, memorable and perfectly foreshadows what’s to come. However, other intended showcase moments for Depp, away from the predictable shootings and strangulations, don’t provide much impact.
All the elements are here for a classic crime drama. This could have been the Boston version of “Goodfellas”. But “Black Mass” never comes close to rising to that level. In fact my interest in this story and these characters fluctuated drastically over the two hours. And ignore the buzz: Depp’s performance is largely one-note and not nomination-worthy. But the biggest black mark for “Black Mass” is the over-the-top score, which ruins otherwise effective scenes and consistently hits the wrong note.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Black Mass” gets a C.
Running Time: 123 min.