Directed by Scott Cooper. Produced by Scott Cooper, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver, and Tyler Thompson. Written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. Release date: September 18, 2015.
I don't think anyone's going to deny that Johnny Depp is one of the most electric actors currently working. I also don't think that anyone's going to try to fight the declaration that for the last decade - maybe decade and a half - the bulk of his work has been big-budget movies, the likes of which will give him paychecks to ensure that his grandchildren's grandchildren will never struggle financially. While Depp never struggles to turn in a committed performance, the films over this period of time have been largely mediocre to bad, with only a couple of exceptions. Black Mass is being billed by many in the media as Depp's "comeback" film, although what they really mean is that it looks like one that has the potential to be good. Depp didn't go anywhere; he's just been stuck in a seemingly endless loop of junk.
Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, is the based-on-true-events story of one James "Whitey" Bulger (Depp), a crime boss located primarily in South Boston. Taking place over several years, the film depicts important events both in his personal and criminal life, as well as events that happened around him. The film doesn't want to act simply as a biopic of Whitey's life; it also wants to focus on FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who uses Whitey as an informant for a lengthy period of time. This, however, is a house-of-cards story, and after teasing it for a while, events start to get out of control for both men, before - well, I don't want to spoil it for those who don't know about the real events, but can you really ruin a real-life story? Look it up if you want to know what happened. Or see the movie, because it's the first good wide-release in what feels like forever.
Despite being quite a slow burn - one where talking is the primary form of action, with only brief spurts of extreme violence mixed in - Black Mass never starts to drag or feel dull. Part of the success has to be directly attributed to Depp, whose portrayal of Whitey Bulger is so multifaceted and alluring that every time he's on-screen, you're not sure what he's going to do. Is he acting as the family man, who cares for his son and helps elderly ladies with their groceries? Or is he going to take that same lady and shoot her in the back of the head in the middle of broad daylight. He's not a loose cannon, though; everything he does is calculated, or at least that's the appearance he gives off. He's either one step ahead of everyone in the room, or he's completely lost his marbles. Either way, it's captivating. He can chill you to your core with a simple touch of a face, or he can make you genuinely sympathize with him as he plays gin rummy with his mother, sometimes with both feelings occurring in the same scene.