The long drought between summer blockbusters and Oscar season is – thankfully – coming to a close. Like those first, precious raindrops on too-dry earth, films with a glimmer of greatness are beginning to sprinkle down, giving hope that the deluge of prestige films many crave is indeed on the way. And while ‘Black Mass’ – the new Whitey Bulger-based biopic starring Johnny Depp – may not be the Academy-pleaser some had hoped, it still proves a competent and impactful film on the leading edge of the oncoming Oscar rainstorm.
Directed by Scott Cooper and full of added star power like Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, and Kevin Bacon – ‘Black Mass’ isn’t lacking when it comes to notable performances. Even Jesse Plemons of ‘Breaking Bad’ fame brings his A-game, despite his relative inexperience when compared to the likes of his co-stars. Of course the biggest focus, however, is on Johnny Depp, who plays the infamous Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger. Aside from a few makeup misfires and too-colorful contact lenses – Depp sure does love transforming himself — Depp mostly looks the part well, though it’s his intense performance that murders the audience’s Jack Sparrow expectations.
As Whitey Bulger – a gangster borne of seedy, “Southie” Boston – Depp deftly conveys the random violence and near bi-polar mania you’d expect from a crime kingpin. Depp does the steely, calculated manner of Bulger well, but it’s when he suddenly shifts into bouts of ragey violence that his performance really stands out. As an actor many have come look down on for his sillier roles – see: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ 1-50 and ‘Tusk’ – ‘Black Mass’ proves that Depp is just as capable of hefty gravitas as he is whirling whimsy. It’s a welcome reminder that Depp is perfectly capable of playing characters rather than just caricatures.
Other performances shine in ‘Black Mass’ as well. Joel Edgerton continues to be a powerhouse of talent – especially with recent films like ‘The Gift’ and ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ – and Kevin Bacon turns in a nuanced take on FBI-boss Charles McGuire that definitely demands attention. While Jesse Plemons isn’t given as much to do as others, the material he does have is executed well and we can only hope to see him in meatier roles in the future. Even Dakota Johnson – Anastasia Steel from ’50 Shades of Grey’ – turns in excellence, despite her small role as Bulger’s wife. We even get some bear eye candy in the form of Rory Cochrane, though – regretfully – he keeps his shirt firmly on at all times (damn!).
Though ‘Black Mass’ won’t likely be in contention come Oscar time – except, perhaps, for Depp’s performance as Bulger – the film is definitely worth checking out before the prestige season kicks into high gear. It’s a film that’s sure to appeal to many, especially if you’re a Depp fan who’s looking for something a little different than his as-of-late norm. ‘Black Mass’ is available in wide release, so it’s sure to be playing in your area right now – don’t miss it. And check out the Movie Bears Podcast’s full review of the film, embedded below or available on iTunes or Stitcher Radio.
by Brad Harris, Movie Bears Podcast (http://www.moviebearspodcast.com)