A very different looking Johnny Depp took on the role as Boston’s drug lord, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger for his new film ‘Black Mass,’ but will the transformation be a hit for the actor after many flops?
Black Mass revolves around the ways that James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, portrayed by Johnny Depp, completely controlled the Boston world of drugs, and got in with the FBI. With an A-list cast of Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, and Joel Edgerton, some say it could actually receive some Oscars buzz. But others aren’t sure if it’s just a rip off. So, here’s what the critics are saying.
Depp hasn’t been this tamped down in a movie since he played second fiddle to Al Pacino in “Donnie Brasco”; even his Oscar-nominated J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland” seems a whirl of outsized tics and mannerisms by comparison. Even great actors (Nicholson and Pacino being among the perfect test cases) can fall back on indulgences and bad habits when they feel they’re giving the audience what it wants to see. But Depp is fully restored here to the daring, inspired performer of his early Tim Burton collaborations and “Dead Man,” knowing he is so deep inside the role that, whatever he does, we will come to him. The violence in “Black Mass,” when it comes, is swift and brutal, but nothing here is more startling than a single, sudden dart of Bulger’s eyes across a room.
An inevitable question is how “Black Mass” compares with “The Departed.” That excellent film, released in 2006 and directed by Martin Scorsese, covered some of the same ground through an ingenious adaptation of an intricate and purely fictional Hong Kong crime thriller, “Infernal Affairs,” that had nothing to do with Bulger or his Boston haunts. The factual aspects of the new film give it the edge in authenticity. And though Jack Nicholson gave a marvelous performance as a fictional version of Whitey Bulger, it was a quintessential Nicholson performance, while Johnny Depp’s work here feels genuinely new.
This guy is evil, but you have to admit he’s also kind of cool. I’m not really raising a moral objection here. I have seen “Goodfellas” and the “Godfather” movies more times than I can count, and I’m as susceptible as any other deskbound, conflict-averse fantasist to the visceral appeal of a good gangster movie. But “Black Mass” isn’t one. Mr. Cooper’s direction is skillful, if overly reliant on borrowed Scorseseisms (especially when it comes to music), and the cast is first-rate, but the film is a muddle of secondhand attitudes and half-baked ideas. It feels more like a costume party than a costume drama.
Yes, that’s Johnny Depp, balding and steely-eyed, glaring out from the poster for “Black Mass,” in which he plays notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. It’s almost stunt casting — the fine-featured Hollywood actor as a Southie sleazeball — but Depp turns in one of his most convincing performances in years. If anything, “Black Mass” focuses so intently on its star that the film’s more interesting aspects don’t get the attention they deserve.
— Emily Longeretta