‘Black Mass’ Reviews: Critic Says Johnny Depp Is ‘Broodingly Psychotic’ as Mobster Whitey Bulger, and 9 Other Takes

The crime drama debuted at Venice Film Festival on Sept. 4 and will hit theaters Friday

Last Updated: September 15, 2015 @ 3:47 PM

“Black Mass” could mark Johnny Depp‘s violent career comeback after box office flops like “Mortdecai and “The Rum Diary.”

That’s what critics are saying about the film depicting Whitey Bulger, one of the most notorious criminals in U.S. history. The film also stars Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard and Jesse Plemons, and had its debut at Venice Film Festival on Sept. 4.

Fans in the United States will be able to see the Warner Bros. film Friday, and it is tracking for $22 million to $28 million its opening weekend. January’s “Mortdecai” opened to a sad $4.2 million, while “The Rum Diary” (2011) opened to $5.1 million. Even 2014’s “Transcendence” did poorly at the box office, only opening to $10.8 million.

Currently, the film has an 89 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 98 percent of people wanting to see the biopic of the Boston Irish gangster. And critics seem undivided in their opinion, praising the entire cast’s stellar acting and impressive directing by Scott Cooper.

TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde agrees: “Depp bringing his skills to the table as a man with a propensity for being both terrifying and charming, often switching between the two on a dime. Just about every speaking role here has an acclaimed actor attached to it, and they’re given varying amounts of time and material to make an impression.”

Here are eight other reviews that praise Depp’s true crime drama.

Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent:

Johnny Depp gives an utterly chilling performance as the notorious James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Boston-set crime drama ‘Black Mass’ (a world premiere at The Venice Film Festival.)”

Lee Marshall, Screen Daily:

“‘Black Mass’ turns Aviator shades and a receding hairline into one hell of a scary combo. But Johnny Depp‘s broodingly psychotic turn as convicted Boston crime lord James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is not the only tasty thing about Scott Cooper‘s tale of the unholy alliance between a South Boston Irish mobster and the FBI. An Irish-American ‘Goodfellas’ shot in locations made familiar by TV series ‘The Wire?’ Sure, but in the end, despite getting lost around its midpoint in the wilderness that so often besets multi-decade true crime stories, ‘Black Mass’ shakes off such comparisons to become its own made man.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

“‘Black Mass’ is a title which might lead you to expect a great importance for the Catholic church which is, after all, so important in the neighbourhood – local kids became priests as well as cops and robbers. In fact, the church isn’t too relevant. This is a secular, pessimistic tale about how gangsters are nurtured like microbes in a petri dish by corruption; it is acted and directed with tremendous confidence and verve.”

Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

“When Johnny Depp first appears as infamous Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in director Scott Cooper‘s ‘Black Mass,’ the actor seems like a special effect. Buried under tons of makeup, a very convincing bald wig, and countless prosthetics, Depp looks eager for a comeback role after several years of lackluster projects.

Such extreme attempts at physical transformation by famous faces often lead to misguided vanity projects. Fortunately, just when Depp seems like he could be set up for failure, Bulger’s sharp blue eyes peer out from a menacing scowl, and an iconic monster comes to life.”

James Verniere, Boston Herald:

“The film marks a dramatic comeback for Depp. His Whitey might be more psycho Willy Wonka than human being, but he is going to scare the bejeezus out of you, and a scene in which he goes after FBI agent John Morris (David Harbour) will remind gangster movie buffs of one that earned Joe Pesci an Academy Award. When Depp’s Whitey turns those baby blues of his on a person and glares, you expect the wretch to burst into flames, although he or she is more likely to get one in the back of the head from Whitey’s Neanderthal henchmen Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) and Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown).

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com:

“There’s a great performance at the center of ‘Black Mass’ too, but Scott Cooper understands the importance of ensemble and how great supporting turns can make the centerpiece look even more impressive. ‘Black Mass’ is one of those old-fashioned ensemble movies, filled out with recognizable faces, all doing solid work even in small parts. Look, there’s Peter Sarsgaard. There’s Rory Cochrane. There’s W. Earl Brown and Julianne Nicholson. All great. The movie belongs to Johnny Depp, but the versatile actor ups his game because of the people around him, and his director’s trust in his actors. Scott Cooper has made a gangster film that’s about faces–piercing eyes, furrowed brows, bloodied teeth, pursed lips–more than gunfire. And it’s remarkably entertaining for that reason–we are drawn into the people it captures, and care about what they’re doing.”

Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound:

“This is one hell of a return for Depp. After prancing from one fantastical role to another, as though he lost a crummy bet to Tim Burton sometime in the mid ’90s (or just really, really enjoyed the piles of cash Bruckheimer and Disney threw at him for ‘Pirates’), it’s a relief to see the veteran so alive, so visceral, and so overwhelming. Not since 2001’s ‘Blow,’ or better yet, 1998’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ has he taken a film and run away with it like this.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal:

“I’ll limit my comments on Scott Cooper‘s remarkable –and flagrantly violent — biopic about James “Whitey” Bulger, the peerlessly murderous South Boston mob boss who was also an informant for the FBI. Suffice it to say for now that Johnny Depp is phenomenal in the central role, and that Joel Edgerton is equally so as John Connolly, the FBI agent who was no less corrupt than the criminal he handled. (I can’t resist adding that for at least a decade Bulger was my down-the-block neighbor in Santa Monica, a grey-haired guy who called himself Charlie and, just like me, walked his dog in nearby Palisades Park.)”

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

“It’s a very good film about a very bad man. But as well-crafted and well-acted as it is, it never rises to greatness because we’ve been watching this story in one way or another going back to the time of Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. Whitey may now be in good (which is to say, bad) company, but he’s still the same old monster.”