Back in April I gave my initial thoughts on Black Mass and Johnny Depp after seeing the first trailer for the film. Well, the time has finally come to pass down my judgement on Johnny. Does Johnny electrify the screen as real life gangster Whitey Bulger? Will he restore his reputation as one of the all-time greats?
The answer is… Johnny and his film fall somewhere in the middle: neither amazing nor bad. Overall I really enjoyed Black Mass and Johnny Depp, but neither wowed me. Johnny gives a very good performance; menacing, charming, funny. The makeup and costuming seem to enhance his performance instead of distracting from it. It’s the closest Johnny has come to playing a genuine human being in a long time.
The fault with the film, which also hurts Depp, is that it is told neither from Whitey’s POV nor from John Connolly’s (played by the delicious Joel Edgerton). Whitey, of course, did not participate in the making of the film and has basically shit all over it and Depp (without having seen it). And since Connolly wouldn’t even testify against Whitey in real life, I highly doubt he contributed anything. This has a great effect on the film as neither Whitey nor Connolly is the main character, instead switching between the two constantly and relying constantly on the accounts of other characters. Because of this the film seems to have nothing to say. It is a great collection of some neat scenes and performances, but there is no direction to it. Is Whitey good, bad, a bit of both? Is Connolly? Yes, Connolly has a strong attachment to Whitey because of their childhood, but there must be a little more to it than that. The film does not explore any of this, instead just skimming the surface of the two men’s lives.
This lack of depth is what keeps the film from becoming anything other than pretty good. Joel Edgerton was the highlight for me as at least his character evolves and changes, unlike Whitey who remains static. Although the film acts as though he changes after two significant deaths in his life, but that change never comes across very well. The cast is all stellar except for Benedict Cumberbatch (he’s okay, but pretty much just a glorified cameo). I liked Black Mass, but it is just a Scorsese wannabe. 7 Joel Edgerton pouts out of 10.