I finally caught the latest Johnny Depp film Black Mass, which I definitely wanted to catch before it left theaters, if only to catch his performance which has been getting much acclaim.
Black Mass is based on real events that occurred in the 70s and 80s in Boston, about the rise of crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) who made an alliance with the FBI to give information about an opposing mob family. Because he was an informant, Bulger was protected for much of these two decades and able to steal, kill, and rule the city without any consequence. The movie follows FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) as he negotiates this deal. We also meet Bulger’s brother (Benedict Cumberbatch), the head of the FBI (Kevin Bacon), and Bulger’s wife (Dakota Johnson). We also have Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll in the mix.
The movie is directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) and written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow).
This is a return to form for Johnny Depp, who has been somewhat typecast lately as the eccentric oddball (Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Here, he does some serious character work but in the opposite way. It’s not in your face like his other recent roles, instead it’s subtle and quiet and understated. Does this work? Yes, completely. He disappears into this role, making you immediately forget that this is Captain Jack Sparrow you’re watching.
If there’s a reason to see this movie, it’s for Depp’s performance. That’s how good he is here and it’s great to see him back in a more serious role. He’s absolutely terrifying and his character is capable of anything, which makes every scene he’s in unpredictable.
Aside from Depp, there’s some other stellar talent here. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Joel Edgerton get a hefty amount of screentime. Edgerton delivers a great performance here especially, as his morality tips and wavers throughout the film. As Bulger commits more and more villainous acts, Edgerton does a stellar job presenting the inner turmoil that this causes his character.
What doesn’t work?
Big picture, this movie struggles with pacing. It’s only 122 minutes, which isn’t abnormal, but the plot slows to a crawl at a few different points, making it feel much longer.
And while Depp delivers a great performance, not every performance is stellar. Benedict Cumberbatch kind of stands out here, mostly for a really strange Boston accent that feels out of place (though I’m not an expert). Maybe it’s because I know his voice so well. It bothered me.
Also, Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) is completely out of her league here. She has one especially poignant scene with Depp and it is some of the most cringe-worthy acting I’ve ever seen. He is subtle and perfect here, while she is overblown and something from a middle school acting class. That scene could’ve been the most powerful moment in this movie, as a defining moment for Bulger, but she tanked the whole scene and stole from him that moment.
Johnny Depp’s performance is definitely worth seeing but I don’t know if I can recommend paying full admission price in the theaters. It’s a solid film, especially since we as a culture are obsessed with “based on true story” films, but a few things drag it down: the pacing is sluggish at times and a few bad performances (most notably Dakota Johnson) keep this movie from really being something special.