“Johnny Depp does career-best work as notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Scott Cooper’s taut, elegantly understated crime drama.”
The icy blue eyes of notorious Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger stare out from the screen in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” like the gaze of some confident jungle predator calmly lying in wait, holding his ground until the moment he moves in for the kill. And that same coolly calculated composure extends to every aspect of how the actor playing Bulger embodies the role, or rather disappears into it. But if Johnny Depp’s mesmerizing performance — a bracing return to form for the star after a series of critical and commercial misfires — is the chief selling point of “Black Mass,” there is much else to recommend this sober, sprawling, deeply engrossing evocation of Bulger’s South Boston fiefdom and his complex relationship with the FBI agent John Connolly, played with equally impressive skill by Joel Edgerton. Something of an anti-“The Departed” (which was partly inspired by the Bulger case), the movie has an intentionally muted, ’70s-style look and feel that may limit its appeal to the date-night multiplex crowd, but quality-starved adult moviegoers should flock to one of the fall’s first serious, awards-caliber attractions.