Johnny Depp has had a tumultuous career in recent years, to say the least. Just at the start of this year, he gave one of his worst performances ever in one of this year's worst films ever - Mortdecai. However, can his latest film, gangster-drama Black Mass, put him back him on the right track?

Yes, is the answer to the question posed above. A whopping big yes. It has been several years (probably more) since Depp has given a performance worth taking any notice of. Having recently starred in some of the worst films of his career, with the likes of The Lone Ranger, Transcendence and, as already mentioned, Mortdecai, all hope was beginning to fade as the once great actor's career continued to spiral downwards and was approaching a point of no return. However (and thankfully), Black Mass is the silver lining; this is the needle in the haystack that Depp was needing, as the actor rises from the ashes to play Whitey Bulger in what is a truly incredible piece of drama.
Spanning a decade of the gangster's life, Black Mass follows the true story of Whitey Bulger's rise from a common crook to one of the most notorious criminals in U.S history, heading the nefarious White Hill Gang in South Boston. Forming an alliance with his senator brother Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Egerton), to act as an informant, for the FBI, and provide information to bring down the Italian mob and Mafia, in exchange for his criminal activities to go unnoticed and under the radar. However, as this partnership progresses, things begin to spiral further out of control as violence and chaos ensue - consisting of extortion, money laundering and multiple murders - with Connolly finding himself entangled in the wrong side of this game of "cops and robbers" whilst Bulger makes it onto the FBI's Most Wanted List.

Of course, the biggest appeal to this picture is the acting but, most of all, Johnny Depp as our lead mob boss. Depp is a juggernaut here and his transformation (donning a slick blond pullback, ghastly blue eyes and some sickly teeth) is incredible. The actor gives a return to form as the gangster, with an eerily haunting performance that is deserved of some Awards attention. Depp inhibits the skin of Bulger, completely disappearing into the character and you really feel intimidated and terrified by his power. You can't help but sink back into your seat and feel your stomach tightening upon his presence, a disturbing and chilling turn indeed. And let's not mention his truly creepy psycho laugh, echoing the infamous Joker laugh on a darker, more eerie level. Joel Egerton is another highlight, not quite surpassing Depp's masterful acting but certainly matching him blow for blow as a slimy cop who let's corruption rot him to the core - and how believably Egerton sells it too.

This film belongs to Depp and Egertom but the pair get some star-studded support, from a stellar cast all on their A-game. Jesse Plemons makes a convincing thug, following on from a similar role in Breaking Bad. Rory Cochrane is another honourable mention, as Bulger's right-hand man. Kevin Bacon makes a brilliant appearance as FBI agent Charles McGuire and Corey Stoll is a real standout as the man that eventually brings order to all the chaos. Dakota Johnson also makes a fine turn as Bulger's wife, or more so, the mother to his son, if a little underused - not quite getting enough screentime to fully flex her talents. Benedict Cumberbatch also has a starring role and I've never been a big fan of his work but he's fine and gives a pretty good performance for what's required of him, if not staying in the loop for quite so long.
The infamous story of Whitey Bulger is utterly fascinating and Scott Cooper's take on it is compelling and entertaining. Yet, it never quite feels like it lives up to its potential. The film feels a little late to the party; very formulaic, a little too formulaic at times - there's nothing new here. To an extent though, an argument can be made that, being based on a true story, it's just sticking close to the source material which itself just happens to be like this - conventional. However, that's not an excuse for the fact that this a paint-by-numbers affair that we've seen before. It's a story we've seen before. Cooper's handle manages to keep us engrossed, nonetheless, and the relentless violence, powerhouse acting and intriguing story of Whitey Bulger still make this an entertaining and engaging crime drama, for what it's worth.

Overall, Black Mass is an entertaining film for what's it worth. It's a pretty conventional and typical crime drama, livened up by a stellar ensemble and some astounding acting. The story of Whitey Bulger is a compelling one and this is a well directed, well acted, well filmed and finely polished up, sleek film and an enjoyable couple of hours, if nothing special or memorable in the long run. Depp is mesmerising and Egerton is a revelation in a film driven by lots of career-best acting from its cast. The only downside is that they're not exactly livening up anything new and this is a dark affair with nothing or no one to root for, with everyone almost playing as an antagonist so there's not much of an emotional connection or any empathy from the audience which makes it a good but empty film in the end.

VERDICT:
Like Whitey Bulger himself, Black Mass is violent, unsettling and dark. This is a stylish, slick and engaging gangster drama - if all a bit too clich├ęd, hollow and unforgettable - with a mesmerising Depp, in a career best performance.


About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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