Black Mass: Depp goes for the Oscar, but does he deserve it?

Depp goes for his first Oscar nom since “Sweeney Todd”


Johnny Depp in “Black Mass.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Since he played murder victim #3 in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from 1984, Johnny Depp has become one of the most recognizable, liked, and respected actors in the business. Starring in films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Platoon,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Ed Wood,” and more, it’s no surprise why Depp is such a beloved actor. In addition, he’s also one of the best, having been nominated for three Oscars. However, in those three nominations, Depp does not have a win to his name.

Many predict that could change with “Black Mass,” a film in which Depp stars, completely unrecognizable, as James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious mobster who spent over a decade on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list.

The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who directed “Crazy Heart,” the film that won star Jeff Bridges his first Oscar, and the phenomenal “Out of the Furnace,” easily one of the most underrated films of the past decade. On the acting side, Joel Edgerton (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (“21 Jump Street), Kevin Bacon (“Footloose”), Corey Stoll (“Ant-Man”), and Peter Sarsgaard (“Shattered Glass”) join Depp in the film and easily give the film one of the best casts in a movie this year.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the directing and editing could not accommodate the acting. The film is good, no doubt, but had the film been edited differently, I feel that this could have easily contended for best picture at the upcoming Oscars.

What it certainly does contend for at the Oscars is Best Actor for Depp. Depp is so good here that he almost completely erases my memory of some of his past performances in “movies” such as the horrendous “The Lone Ranger” and the overwhelmingly dull “Transcendence.” Depp’s transformation here reminds me of Christian Bale’s transformation into Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter,” which won Bale Best Supporting Actor that year, by the way. Everything from the accent to the walk convinced me that I wasn’t watching Johnny Depp; I was watching Whitey Bulger. The real Whitey Bulger.

It seemed that everyone completely hit the bullseye with their performances, in particular David Harbour and Rory Cochrane. Both had to act opposite of Depp and Joel Edgerton in almost all of their scenes and, for the most part, completely held their own against the heavy hitters. Even actors with small roles, such as Peter Sarsgaard and Corey Stoll, were able to add layers and depth to the film.

While the characters were all very fleshed out and fantastic, this also leads to the major problem of the film: its pacing. The film seems so preoccupied with the characters that it felt at times more like a documentary for psychology class and not a movie which people go to to be entertained. It’s quite hard to imagine a movie with Johnny Depp sporting almost no hair, shooting goons and laying down the f-bomb every other word to be boring. How is this possible? It’s simple, really: the film didn’t focus on a specific time in Bulger’s life, such as his rise or fall from power; it just showed his whole life. By the end, I was actually checking the time. The film is nowhere near as boring as certain films (Gravity), but it definitely has its moments where it moves slower than a 90 year old grandpa on his walker. The film definitely could have been trimmed at least by 15 minutes.

In addition to the pacing, some of the directing seemed a bit choppy. As I mentioned before, I loved Scott Cooper’s previous film “Out of the Furnace.” While much of what made that film great is here as well, the film did seem to miss some of the charm. The film just has so much going on at all times that you get to the point where you’re not trying to follow what’s going on anymore. Instead, you just don’t care. The film’s main focus is Bulger’s rise and fall in crime, but , in addition, the film also follows Edgerton’s character and his relationship with Bulger, as well as several subplots involving Bulger’s gang possibly having a rat, relationship issues between Edgerton and his wife, played by Julianne Nicholson, and Rory Cochrane’s characters involvement in an insestual relationship. There was so much going on in this movie that it would have made for a far better TV mini-series. As a film, it just feels convoluted.

While I mainly focused on the negatives of the film, the majority of the film was still quite good. In addition to the acting, the film was excellently shot, the dialogue was extremely well written, and the music was quite beautiful.

The film had quite a bit of wasted potential, not to mention quite disappointing for a film that was intended to be a serious awards contender, but on its own, without any anticipation or expectations, the film is definitely well made and well done. It could have been better, but at the same time it could have been worse as well.


Grade: B


Director: Scott Cooper

Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll

Rating: R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use

Runtime: 2 hours and 2 minutes (122 min.)