By: Logan Sowash
Looking back these last few years, it’s hard not to notice Johnny Depp’s dip in popularity. This dip hasn’t led to him fallen into obscurity but he certainly hasn’t had a memorable film in years. Since his big hit in 2011 with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Depp has either acted in bad films such as Dark Shadows or has played second fiddle to other great actors in good films such as last year’s Into the Woods though I will admit that Rango is an exception. Whether it was for money or for personal interest, it seems like Depp hasn’t made the best choices for his career recently. It’s at that career lowpoint that a film like Black Mass hits at the perfect time, showing people what Depp really has to offer.
Black Mass is a film based off of the life of James “Whitey” Bulger and his relationship with the FBI since the mid-1970’s. The film shows Bulger’s horrible personality as he takes advantage of the relationship to an egregious degree. The film’s plot spans nearly 20 years and even jumps from several different perspectives such as accounts from Whitey’s closest companions to the agents handling Whitey’s partnership with the FBI. These perspective jumps are hit-and-miss and it really depends on who you’re following at that point of the movie as to whether it holds your attention or not. This is definitely a problem with the film but I’ll get to that later on.
First up, let’s discuss the good. In terms of acting, everyone hits it out of the park. Each performance from Joel Edgerton to Benedict Cumberbatch was top notch but none of them could hold a candle to Johnny Depp’s performance as Whitey Bulger which was one of his best performances in his entire career. His facial structure and mannerisms melt away any resemblance of Depp and replaces it with a menacing character that feels all too real. Besides the acting, the cinematography was great and the story has some fantastic moments that were unsettling yet wonderfully executed. The film has its times where it really pulls you in and I can’t help but commend it for that.
Unfortunately, there are some glaring issues with the film starting with the perspective jumping. Despite this film being about Bulger, the film jumps to so many different perspectives so frequently that it’s hard to really care about some of these characters since they disappear and reappear in random parts of the film. Also, the film’s conclusion doesn’t feel very satisfying since most of the characters barely had arcs and the ones that did really didn’t get any resolution to them. It’s a film that could’ve easily benefitted from having another half hour added to it as it could’ve used that time to flesh out more characters. Add some slow pacing in the mix and you have a film that isn’t shy of flaws.
In the end, Black Mass is a good movie but falls short of becoming the next Goodfellas or Godfather. It’s a mixed bag that’ll surely have praise for its fantastic acting and criticisms for its unnecessarily slow pace. I didn’t regret spending money to see and I recommend it to those who really want to see a well-acted drama. Despite my disappointment with the overall product, I was glad that my high expectations for Depp were met. His dedication to the role made the film and showed audiences that there is more to him than drunkenly asking about where the rum has gone.