“Black Mass” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Johnny Depp gives a frightening, transformative performance in “Black Mass,” a fascinating look at the rise of real-life Irish-American mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in South Boston. Concentrating on a 20-year period of Bulger’s life beginning in 1975, director Scott Cooper’s period thriller may not be as polished as Martin Scorsese’s sprawling gangster thriller “Goodfellas,” but there’s no question “Black Mass” is easily one best movies of the year to date.
“Black Mass” concentrates on the complicated “alliance” of Bulger and FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who offers the man who he grew on with and admired an opportunity to provide information to the agency to bring down Italian mafia in New England. But while the FBI was deconstructing Bulger’s rivals, the mobster ran his operation unabated and built a criminal empire of his own in brutal fashion.
Depp, like he has many times before, becomes his character. Fitted with piercing blue contacts, Depp is menacing with his piercing stare, giving one of his most frightening and fascinating performances to date. Edgerton is also brilliant as Connolly, as is Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s influential state Senator brother. The great thing is, Cooper and Depp allow for several other performers to deliver the goods, including Kevin Bacon as Connolly’s skeptical FBI boss; Jesse Plemons as Kevin Weeks, a pivotal member of Bulger’s Winter Hill gang; and Corey Stoll as assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak – the man who confronted Connolly and began an arduous 25-year operation to apprehend Bulger.
“Everest” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin skillfully guide us on one of the most compelling action adventure movies of the year with “Everest,” a dramatic re-telling of a tragic Mount Everest expedition in 1996. Even though the tragedy – which involved two climbing parties – has been well documented, it’s completely engrossing from the get-go, as expeditions led by Rob Hall (Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) are doomed by a brutal blizzard that hits Everest just as the climbers hit the summit. Keira Knightley also gives a heartbreaking performance as Hall’s pregnant wife, Jan Hall, who struggles to keep in touch with her husband in the face of doom. While Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s visuals in the film are thrilling, they never trump the human emotion of the characters in their hours of desperation.