BOSTON (CBS) — “Black Mass,” the movie about notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, doesn’t hit theaters until Friday, but film critics are already weighing in.
Ratings aggregator RottenTomatoes.com gives “Black Mass” a very respectable score of 83 percent based on about two dozen reviews so far. The highest praise, however, is reserved for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Bulger, and many are predicting it might be the role that revitalizes his career.
Here’s a look at what some of the early reviews say.
Variety’s Scott Foundas writes that “Black Mass” is an “elegantly understated crime drama,” and raves about Depp’s “mesmerizing” transformation into the mobster.
“Depp more than rises to the occasion, doing career-best work as a man who might easily have been played for ghoulish caricature (a la Jack Nicholson in “The Departed”), but instead emerges as a complex, undeniably charismatic figure who draws other criminals and lawmen alike into his cult of sociopathic personality,” Foundas says.
The New York Times says that while other actors have played entertaining characters based on Bulger, Depp’s is “the most realistic.”
“Outfitted with bad teeth and thinning blond hair, Mr. Depp so disappears into the part that he’s barely recognizable,” Charles McGrath writes. “Of all recent screen villains, he may be the iciest and most joyless, in fact, and that, even more than his violence, is what makes him so frightening.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy says Depp shines in the gangster movie.
“He’s as charismatic as his character must be, fully convincing and frightening,” the review states.
Esquire’s Matt Patches also writes that Depp has outdone himself with his performance, but says the movie doesn’t focus on its star enough.
“[Joel] Edgerton’s bumbling agent, Benedict Cumberbatch’s thinly drawn portrayal of Whitey’s senator brother William, and the handful of other characters who weave in and out of the action, distract from the harrowing drone of Bulger’s 20-year dominion over Boston,” Patches says.
The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr gives the movie 2.5 stars out of four, calling it “a solid if not stellar crime drama.” Depp gives a “contained and focused” performance as the mobster, The Globe says,” despite some “absurd zombie contact lenses.”
“But most of the strength of Depp’s Jimmy Bulger is in the minimalist chill of a man who knows his reputation precedes him by many city blocks and that all he needs to keep things running smoothly is the occasional application of grievous bodily harm,” Burr writes.
Not everyone is convinced that Depp gives an Oscar-worthy performance. Wendy Ide of The Times in the UK awards the movie two out of five stars.
“It’s not that this is a bad performance,” she writes. “It’s just that to play Bulger. . . required Depp to undergo the kind of physical transformation it’s hard to see past.”
A private screening for the “Black Mass” cast will be held Tuesday night at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.