By Cole Weinstein
Does Johnny Depp give his first good performance in years? Yes. Is Depp back? No.
“Black Mass” is a film about notorious Boston gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his role as an informant with the FBI, specifically with his childhood friend, Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The film also touches on Whitey's relationship with his senator brother, Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his wife, Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson). It also deals with Connolly’s relationship with his wife, Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), and fellow FBI agents Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon), Robert Fitzpatrick (Adam Scott), and Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll). Does that sound like a lot? Because it is. The major issue of “Black Mass” is that there are too many mouths to feed in this star-studded cast and, because of this, the film attempts to tackle way too many subjects. This makes the film feel very impersonal, which did not allow me to connect with any of the characters. All of this, along with the addition of the movie’s overall repetitive nature, turns the Scott Cooper-directed film very stale very fast.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some positives to the film, because there definitely are. Certain scenes are very effective and feel believable, thanks to the good cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi, and no one gives a particularly bad performance. In fact, Joel Edgerton and Peter Sarsgaard give remarkably engaging performances. But overall, the film falls flat in its narrative approach, for which the script is to blame. Often times, scenes felt stale and I felt no connection to the film. Dragging on for the total runtime of just over two hours, many scenes left me bored.
The overarching question everyone had going into this movie was whether or not Johnny Depp gave a good performance. While the answer to that question is “yes,” he still gave a stereotypical Johnny Depp performance. He was still lathered in makeup and wigs, he still played a caricature with no real substance; and while it wasn’t as loud as a “Willy Wonka” or “Mad Hatter” we have come to expect, it was just as over the top in its own right. To make it clear, this is the best performance Depp has given in a long time. However, this doesn’t mean that he’s back in his prime.
“Black Mass” is simply forgettable. While it has its merits, there are far too many great films out right now that deserve to be seen first. Very soon, “Black Mass” will fade away into the background and become just another gangster film amongst the crowd.
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