Boston mobster immortalized in film

Johnny Depp gives best performance in years

Ethan Brown

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In Scott Cooper’s film “Black Mass,” Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger is cold-blooded and incredible.

The film follows Bulger’s rise to mobster infamy and subsequent
fall back to real life.

The majority of the film is set in 1970s and 1980s South Boston. Bulger, who in 1975 was just a small-time criminal, aspires to have a stronger presence in the crime world of Boston.

The film begins with its main storytelling device in which men who used to work with Bulger testify against him for the present-day FBI. Cooper’s use of flashbacks isn’t a new idea, but he does a wonderful job of drawing emotion from characters reminiscing about their younger days.

Cooper does an exceptional job as the film’s director, bringing a lot of strong ideas to the film. The motifs of isolation and loneliness are some of the best ideas Cooper brings to the film. Throughout the film, Cooper includes countless shots of Depp by himself. This shows him as a man battered by losses and emphasizes the motifs and their importance marvelously.

The film’s cinematography is one Dark landscapes of downtown Boston set the film’s mood very well. The theme of isolation also plays a large role in the film’s camerawork. Most scenes skip back and forth between characters, making it uncommon to show two people together. Each character is somewhat on their own but also intertwined with everyone else. This makes the cinematography above most films, as viewers can then see individual struggles as well as those of the group.

The film’s strongest aspect, though, is Johnny Depp. Depp’s portrayal of Bulger is nothing short of brilliant. He walks the line between evil and charming almost perfectly, making Bulger seem simultaneously a loving father and a psychopathic killer. Depp also creates a fantastic juxtaposition, pitting viewers against their morals by transforming Bulger into the epitome of an anti-hero. His performance is gut-wrenching, yet magnificent, and provides an early glimpse at what this year’s Oscars could have in store.

Actor Joel Edgerton portrays the other principal character strongly as well. He plays John Connolly, an FBI agent who recruits Bulger as an informant, only to be played for a fool and used by Bulger. Edgerton does a excellent job at capturing the depth of Connolly’s emotions towards Bulger. Edgerton looks perfect for the part, the film’s costume department dresses him very well for his role. He acts the part just as well, showing how obsessive Connolly gets about his involvement with the mob.

The film’s weaknesses are found in the supporting cast. While Depp puts on quite the show, actor Benedict Cumberbatch surprisingly disappoints. Cumberbatch portrays Whitey Bulger’s brother, William, who is the Massachusetts Senate’s president. Cumberbatch, who usually brings a lot of character to every role, summons up a rather dull performance. His Bostonian accent was spot on, but he brought very little charm to a character, who as a politician, should have high reserves of charisma. With a role where the expectations of such a great actor should be quite high, Cumberbatch fell too short.

In “Black Mass,” Johnny Depp is in top form, and puts on one of his best acts in years. His portrayal may just win him an Oscar for Best Actor, and combined with Scott Cooper’s strong directorial work, may get a nod for Best Picture as well. Although the supporting cast of the film is somewhat forgettable, above par cinematography and a beautifully captured story makes up for it.

Black Mass: 9.0/10