Depp abandons comfort zone for gangster flick

by Christopher Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

The mean streets of Boston are center stage on the big screen with new crime drama “Black Mass.” The biopic primarily focuses on notorious crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, played by Johnny Depp.

Bulger is powerful, manipulative, cold and calculated, but has a dark charisma about him.  His story unfolds as he tries to protect his turf from the Italian mob. But he’s not alone, as he employs Irish mob henchmen who also want to take them down. Also wanting to work with Bulger is FBI agent John Connelly (the superb Joel Edgerton). 

Those who already know Bulger’s story won’t be too surprised by what they see on screen. For others who enter the theater with no knowledge about Depp’s character, the film is simply a solid and tense biopic of a man who had an intimidating, icy persona, despite his occasional charm. Depp’s portrayal of “Whitey” as a menacing, merciless and unpredictable mobster makes it his most engaging performance in years.

Director Scott Cooper does a commendable job of capturing the gritty vibe of the late 70s – early 80s gritty Boston, full of crime and corruption. These days, the standards for mob movies are extremely high. “Black Mass” doesn’t reinvent the mob film and it certainly doesn’t reach the cinematic heights of “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather” or “The Departed,” but it was a great film, and it shows that Depp is back.

Depp has always been a great character actor, but after acting in so many zany roles, wearing heavy coats of makeup and failing to shake his Jack Sparrow image, it’s great to see Depp back to playing human beings rather than Loony Toons. Sure, Depp is heavily coated in makeup here, but at least this character feels humane and effective. With those piercing, soulless, blue eyes, it’s impossible to not be creeped out by him. To this reviewer, this should be considered a comeback for Depp, as long he stays on this path and doesn’t veer off again. The film has a dynamite supporting cast as well, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Saargard and Corey Stoll.

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