Mr. Movie

‘Black Mass’ is a black story with great performances

Gary Wolcott

Mr. Movie

Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.
Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. The Washington Post

Black Mass

Black Mass is set in mid-1970s and ends in the late 1990s. The bio-pic lays out the crime life of South Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger. Johnny Depp stars as the notorious criminal.

Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Warrior) is FBI agent John Connolly. He and Bulger grew up in the same neighborhood. Connolly used Bulger to catch the leaders of other organized mobs while at the same time giving the crime boss a free pass for his own activities.

Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) directs. His storytelling skills are superb. Black Mass marches boldly through the world of this cold, dark killer. He and first time screenwriter Mark Mallouk, and veteran writer Zez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow, Fair Game), give Bulger a two-dimensional personality. Normally two-dimensions are the kiss of death for a movie and for a performance. But Bulger — though a complex human being — is a two-dimensional monster.

Depp and Edgerton are supported by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson and other good actors. All are terrific, but it’s Depp who dominates.

Once in a while, Depp gambles with a role, and it pays off. Playing Bulger is one of them. Hair thinned and with blue contacts that make his eyes ice cold — and looking an awful lot like Ray Liotta — Depp adopts a perfect Boston accent and digs into the part. He turns Bulger into a person as compelling as he is frightening and repulsive.

Performances don’t get much more chilling or perfect. And movies — especially organized crime dramas — don’t get much better.

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Director: Scott Cooper

Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple, Bill Camp

Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars

Rated R for mature themes, violence, language. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.