By Megan Bianco
Throughout September movie insiders, critics and fans have been talking about how Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass“ could be Johnny Depp’s big comeback into quality films. Twenty years ago he successfully crossed over from heartthrob to accessible character actor and ten years ago he was at the top of his career with Oscar nominations and his own Disney franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
But quickly after his hit biopic “Finding Neverland” (2004), Depp’s career seemed to implode from so much success. If his movies flopped, no one would notice; if they made money, they would get mixed reviews. By the time “Dark Shadows“ (2012), “The Lone Ranger“ (2013) and “Mortdecai” (2014) had bombed, viewers were wondering if Depp was ever going to regain his traction. But now, after positive feedback at TIFF and Telluride, the movie star might have found his silver lining.
Spanning a decade from 1975 to 1985, Boston gangster and Irish mob leader James Bulger (Depp) is called Jimmy by his friends and Whitey by his enemies. He has the worst, most feared reputation in town, yet remains untouchable. His brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a state senator and childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) is an FBI agent in Beantown. When Bulger discovers that an Italian Mafia family is moving into Boston, he claims his territory by secretly becoming an informant for Connolly as a way to get the Italians out of his neighborhood. As long as Connolly protects Bulger from being caught, Bulger stays free and Connolly gets to enjoy the perks of the mob.
Kevin Bacon portrays Connolly’s superior, Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson co-star as Jimmy’s wife and John’s wife, and Jesse Plemons, Corey Stall, Peter Sarsgaard and Juno Temple appear as the rest of the supporting cast. With all this talk of Depp returning to true form, some are already jumping the gun to claim him as the frontrunner for Best Actor this Oscar season. Somewhat distracting make-up aside, Depp does give one of his most chilling performances so far and makes you almost forget Bulger is played by the same guy who gave us Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow.
Edgerton himself is having quite a phenomenal year between “Black Mass” and his own directed “The Gift,” though it feels like he is phoning it in at times in the former. Sarsgaard and Temple, two very talented supporting actors, are memorable in their brief screen time as a psychotic drug addict and a prostitute with daddy issues. The most impressive acting in the whole film is surprisingly achieved by Johnson and Nicholson in two different, yet equally emotional scenes opposite Depp.
The film’s weak spots lie is in the editing and direction. Running exactly two hours, it’s obvious that Cooper was rushing to get the film down from the rough cut’s three-hours before the release date. Some scenes make smooth transitions, while others are abrupt, with subplots quickly pushed aside. “Black Mass“ doesn’t exactly reach “GoodFellas,” or even “Donnie Brasco,” in quality, but Depp fans will enjoy the great acting.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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