Johnny Depp is in top form as Whitey Bulger in ‘Black Mass,’ reviews say

The reviews are in and critics are praising Johnny Depp’s performance in “Black Mass.”

Depp plays ‘80s crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, an Irish American mobster who who makes a deal with the FBI that essentially gives him free rein to conduct his criminal activities in exchange for information.

Critics have given “Black Mass” generally positive reviews, citing the strong performances of Depp and the rest of the cast (that includes Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and more), earining the film a 76% certified fresh rating on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.


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Times film critic Kenneth Turan says “Black Mass” is “a bleak, claustrophobic based-on-fact film that draws us completely into a dark world of crime and complicity.”

He highlights how Whitey Bulger is “an ideal role for Depp” because it “allows Depp to do things his way, and the result is some of the best, most chilling work he’s done in a while.”

“If the final result doesn’t transcend emotionally in the manner of the gold standard of Boston noir, Clint Eastwood’s ‘Mystic River,’ the fault is not in the execution but the unyieldingly oppressive nature of the underlying material,” Turan said.

Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian similarly praises Depp’s performance and also draws attention to Edgerton’s turn as the FBI agent who proposes the agreement with Bulger.

“Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton both give richly absorbing performances of preening macho self-regard and self-delusion,” Bradshaw said.

USA Today’s Brian Truitt agrees that the film “casts Depp in arguably his most visceral and evil role to date” and that while “Depp astounds with one of the best performances in his long career ... co-star Joel Edgerton steps up equally well as John Connolly, an ethically questionable FBI agent who flirts with the wrong side of the law.”

Truitt says that with director Scott Cooper and screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth’s approach to the film “‘Black Mass’ works the tropes extremely well and sets the scene early in the mean streets of 1970s South Boston.”

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle calls “Black Mass” “a very satisfying piece of entertainment — a gritty showcase for Depp with scores of quality supporting roles.”

However, Hartlaub also says that “Cooper is less successful in reining in the story of Bulger, who turns from a sympathetic and layered protagonist in the beginning of the film to a horror movie villain at the end.”

And while “‘Black Mass’ is a solid piece of filmmaking, from subtle beginning to the excessive end,” Harlauh notes that “it’s truly eerie how few women there are in this movie. ... For entire sequences, women don’t seem to exist, as if a South Boston virus has wiped them out.”

In his review for the Detroit News, Tom Long writes that although the film is “efficiently made and extremely well-acted, there is nevertheless a hollowness to ‘Black Mass,’ a lack of emotional connection.”

Long notes that the film’s “emptiness may simply be history speaking; the truth, or even an approximate of the truth, is not necessarily dramatically satisfying.”

Regardless, he says Cooper does capture “fine performances from a large ensemble cast and Depp fully communicates how scary, dangerous and powerful Bulger was.”

Twitter: @tracycbrown