Johnny Depp transforms into one of the most notorious criminals in US history, James “Whitey” Bulger in director Scott Cooper’s Black Mass. The film follows the story of the Irish American mob boss from Boston during the 1970s and how he made a dirty deal with the FBI to be an informant and trade secrets to take down the Italian mafia. John Connolly (portrayed by Joel Edgerton) grew up with Whitey on the streets of South Boston, and after Connolly became a big shot in the FBI he sought Whitey out and arranged deals to work together and trust each other on what is considered one of the biggest cases in Boston’s FBI history.
Black Mass is fantastic. The film never slows, never gets boring and brings Johnny Depp back into the lime light where he belongs. The story, which is based off real life events, tracks Bulger and his mafia and how their unfortunate plan to overrun the Italian mob unravels into a bloody disaster. Fortunately, for the viewers there is not much gore, and Cooper did a wonderful job telling Bulger’s story where blood and guts is not in the forefront of this film. Sure it turns violent, and is not recommended for children, but it’s refreshing to watch a film solely based on one of the most intimidating men in history, and not have to wince everytime someone gets whacked on screen. The film focuses mostly on character development, the superb acting especially on Depp’s part and the story of one of America’s most wanted criminals.
Depp truly becomes Whitey Bulger to the point where he is almost unrecognizable. Not only does his physical appearance shock audience members, but his prescence on screen is absolutely astounding. Depp creates this space of pure fear. Even his close friends have to fear him, and there is not a single moment on screen that Depp doesn’t lose that. When a tragic event occurs in Bulger’s family, there are moments that viewers will feel for Bulger. Does it justify him killing and committing a slew of crimes? Absolutely not, but Depp almost makes the character of Bulger seem likeable. Depp is making an acting comeback with this film. Lately he has been acting in films portraying characters in his “comfort zone” and geared for children (ie The Lone Ranger, all the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Dark Shadows). Although his comfort zone is quite large compared to most actors, Depp is the most versatile actor in film history and it’s inspiring to see this insanely talented man comeback and portray a character that honestly, only he could portray.
There isn’t much heart in the film. There are never moments of Bulger and friends bonding, he has maybe one or two scenes with his mom, but he is quite the loner. Bulger’s brother, Billy, who is the state senator and portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch have a good relationship but there will not be any tears shed in their affiliation. Cumberbatch is great as a character who is basically stuck between a rock and a hard place. Struggling with his brother committing crime in the mob, and then serving the city of Boston and representing the people is not an easy task. Cumberbatch is likable on all accounts and at times makes the audience feel his pain when his love for his brother is involved. Edgerton delivers a fine performance as a man that struggles to do his job daily, especially when that job is to continuously work with a deadly criminal, whom he admired from childhood.
In conclusion, Black Mass is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys films based on real life people, stories on the mafia and thrillers. Also to anyone who wants to peer into the eyes of one of the most senseless villains and attempt to understand the hatred he had for others, the fact that his heart was almost completely cold and even his friends had to fear for their life.