Johnny Depp hasn’t been the most consistent actor lately—choosing some questionable roles after his stint as Jack Sparrow. In Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, he reminds us what a great actor he can be in a psychotically brilliant performance as the violent criminal James “Whitey” Bulger. Though there are plenty of highs in Black Mass’s look at a bunch of lowlife criminals, it is a film that rushes towards its anti-climatic conclusion, and along the way pushes aside some strong female characters in favor of the male-dominated cast.
Following the downfall of Bulger, a criminal who has been in the headlines within the previous decade, Cooper does an excellent job at creating a compelling atmosphere in Boston during the 70s and 80s where anybody can be a snitch, and anybody can get shot at a moments notice—mostly thanks to the maniacal and vicious performance from Depp who undergoes a serious makeup job in order to portray the beady-eyed, unpredictable, and insane criminal. He is riveting and terrifying, you never know how he’ll react—whether it is the kindness towards an old lady or coaxing someone into a false sense of security before blowing their brains out.The supporting cast—mostly in its entirety—also helps deliver on the solid performances. Joel Edgerton plays John Connolly, a childhood associate of Whitey who now is a big wig at the FBI. Whitey sees this as an advantage to himself, so he strikes up a deal with Connolly in order to get rid of his Italian Mafia rivals while also simultaneously remaining free of any investigations. It is dirty cop, snitch games at its finest, and the climax of the film should have delivered on this promise but unfortunately it rushes too fast towards it for it to have as big of a blow to us as it should.
While the rest of the supporting cast, which includes Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, and Benedict Cumberbatch does a tremendous job at keeping up with the electrifying Depp, it is the women who take the biggest blow as their roles are cut severely short. A lot of this could probably be explained by the cut of an hour of the film due to pacing issues, but stars like Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, and Julianne Nicholson all get left in the fray as their characters are forgotten about or just simply don’t serve any meaningful purpose. A role that was to be played by Sienna Miller, was entirely cut from the film. These characters could have had a lot more meat behind them, but I guess it can just be chalked up to the editing process, though I would not have minded a longer run-time.
If Johnny Depp were to take on more of these roles, people would finally start to regain faith in him. Going from a film like Mortdecai to a stellar one such as this, proves there is still some good roles left in him. Despite its lack of strong female characters and a rushed, and unforuntately anti-climatic ending, Black Mass is a compelling and tremendously performed glimpse at the life of a man and the devil and the man he makes a deal with.