By Kenneth Shipp
Johnny Depp hasn’t exactly wowed me in some of his recent films efforts, Transcendence and ugh … Mordecai, come to mind in particular, but when Depp needs to immerse himself into a role, accent, or era; these are the areas he usually excels. And excel he does with James “Whitey” Bulger
Let’s talk about the performances first because this will be the area that either makes or breaks the film for you. I say knowing it applies to all movies, but if you’re not a fan of the thick Boston accent then you could definitely be turned off by this movie. If you liked The Departed though, you really shouldn’t have a problem with it at all. Cumberbatch and Depp had a great feel to their accents. Having Cumberbatch playing Bulger’s brother as the state senator wouldn’t have been my pick, but they made it work great. He simultaneously lived in his Bostonian accent but toned it down during his political public appearances. Depp felt like he had been speaking that way his entire life and it lent credence to his character; a man who had been heavily invested with his community and family.
Depp is truly terrifying as Bulger; it’s as simple as that. Seriously, he hasn’t inhabited a role this well in a long time. I’ve never seen him this intense, his piercing blues eyes taking over the screen every time he stares a person or the camera down. The scenes with his family and friends when he is still a small time crook are very touching indeed. I haven’t seen a film display the conflict between strong family ties and criminal activity this well since The Godfather. And these seemingly small moments in Bulger’s life, and the heartbreaks he encounters are what push him to become the monster we see.
In the press tours and interviews, Depp has been criticized for saying that Bulger had a “kind heart” and those same critics are saying that glorifies Bulger. I don’t believe those people actually watched the same movie. I think Depp is referring to the family man that Bulger attempted to be and how he loved his fellow Bostonians above the law. Outside of that, the movie doesn’t attempt to glorify Bulger. If you walk away from this movie thinking he was a completely good man, then you weren’t paying attention. He is definitely conflicted early on, but as his losses pile on, he becomes a shell of the man we saw in the beginning.
The battle between Bostonian/Irish pride and the law may be where people are getting the glorification from, but the interviews woven throughout the film tell a different story. Not only did Bulger cause damage with the murders he racked up during this reign, he also affected his personal family, whether they were blood members or not. The performances from Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon and the rest of Whitey’s crew help sell home how much damage he caused in great fashion.
There’s a few moments where the movie drags at the end like it can’t decide the proper time to start showing the fractures in the relationship between Bulger and Connolly (Edgerton). The creepy factor for Depp is at a higher level than when he played Mr. Wolf in Into The Woods and for some that may be a turn off. I really think it adds to his character, but I understand if it’s off-putting to some of the audience.
Overall, Black Mass, will probably be a very memorable addition to American crime based cinema. I also would not be surprised if Depp gets strong Oscar consideration for this film. If the race starts today, he is leading the pack.
Black Mass 8.5 out of 10