It’s been almost 20 years since the last time Johnny Depp starred in a modern gangster film, the vastly underrated Donnie Brasco. He’s now back playing another true life gangster character, James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal in South Boston.
Told in a flashback style, the film starts with the integration of Bulger’s crew members. In the 70s, Bulger was just a small time gangster but then rose to the top by becoming an informant to the FBI. We get to see that he has a normal life with a young beautiful wife Lindsey (Dakota Johnson) and a son. His brother Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the state senator, so we know he has a powerful ally.
We’re then introduced to an FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be a childhood friend of the Bulger brothers. Connolly wants to move up the ranks in the FBI office and one day asked Whitey to help him bring down the Italian mafia. Whitey was hesitant at first; he doesn’t want to be known as a “rat”. Connolly convinced him otherwise and as the story progresses, we get to see how far both of these men will go to get what they want. For fans of gangster genre, there are not many new things that haven’t been told before cinematically.
Depp has been getting lots of good buzz on his performance and I believe he deserves all the praise. At first I thought I was going to see Depp acting like the usual Depp’s character. But to my surprise, he really shines here as the ruthless gangster who has no hesitation to kill anyone who wronged him or come in his way. Bad makeup aside, he really brought a chilling portrayal of a psychopath and made me believe that this was the real Bulger.
The other standout performance belongs to Edgerton, he plays a weasel FBI agent that reminded me of Matt Damon’s character in The Departed. Cumberbatch didn’t really have much to do and his *Boston* accent was kind of distracting a few times. He did have a very good scene with Edgerton though; it’s a scene you’ll have to see to appreciate.
The last film director Scott Cooper made was the uneven and quite frankly, very frustrating Out of the Furnace. Here he kept the pace moving quite nicely; I’m surprised that he was able to keep the film’s runtime in just over 2 hours. He pretty much borrowed every element from other films such as Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed and so on. It’s not a knock on him but I wish he came up with his own style to tell this story.
Even though I thought it’s a good film, I can’t say it’s a great one. This kind of story has been told many times before and I think with a more talented director behind the cameras, this could’ve been a great flick. I’d say see it just for Depp’s and Edgerton’s performances, those two really saves the film from being another average gangster thriller.
So have you seen Black Mass? Well, what did you think?