By Dillon Meehan
Over the past decade, few actors have had their careers dwindle more than Johnny Depp. Apart from the Pirates of the Caribbean series of the mid-2000s, the majority of Depp’s movies have fallen short. That trend ends with his performance in Black Mass. Depp stars as notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Buldger.
Depp’s performance as Buldger is Oscar-worthy. The appearance is eerily spot-on, which is no surprise for Depp, who at times becomes a shapeshifter when he takes on certain roles. But it is more than just the make-up; It is how Depp carries himself throughout the film. Nearly every scene, minus a few minor subplots, involves Depp in some capacity. The role is something he has never taken on before. He is evil and his brutality is shocking at times throughout the entire film.
Despite Depp’s phenomenal performance, it is the rest of the cast that struggles. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Depp’s brother, Senator Billy Buldger. When they are in scenes together, it simply does not work. There is no chemistry between them. The two could not look or act less like brothers. Cumberbatch’s appearance was left untouched, which is strange considering the transformation Depp went through. During the handful of scenes they share together, their interactions are bizarre. Cumberbatch’s British look combined with the Boston accent just misses its mark entirely. It is more a product of poor casting than acting.
The other main issue with the movie is the plot. It is far too scattered, covering a span of 20 years in less than 90 minutes. The film starts out in 1975 after Buldger’s departure from Alcatraz. Shortly after being introduced to the Winter-Hill Gang, FBI Agent John Connolly returns home with a proposition: help the FBI capture the Italian mob, and in return, they will look the other way. This alliance allows Buldger free reign to go from a small time criminal to the FBI’s most wanted gangster. This provides another chance for the film to redeem itself, but once again, it falls short. The multiple decades of murder, racketeering and extortion are reduced to a couple of scenes that jump far too quickly. In a span of five minutes, Connolly has gone from relatively unknown, to a big shot in the FBI. It is the small details like this in the plot that make the film fall short.
Overall, Black Mass is a great crime movie. The plot and supporting cast lack luster at times, but Depp’s performance makes you forget about it. The role is far different from the norm for Depp, who showed everyone a new side that he is capable of showing. The 52-year-old is considering retirement, but it is hard to imagine him turning down roles following a performance like this.