From the moment you see Johnny Depp’s crisp, blue eyes and deathly gaze appear on screen as notorious crime boss of the Boston neighborhoods, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Black Mass, you know he means business. The crime drama by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, based on the investigative book by the same name, was adapted to screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Edge of Tomorrow).
Black Mass takes place in the 1970’s and tells the story of Bulger as he rises to become head honcho of the Winter Hill Gang, a fusion of the Irish and Italian criminals, in the South Boston area.
Right as Bulger begins to lead his gang into more drug deals and extortion rackets, an old childhood friend who is now an FBI agent, John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton), starts to appear back in his life. Connolly tries to convince Bulger to become an informant for him, to get him intel on the Angiulos, two brothers connected to the mob, which Bulger has been trying to take down himself. In return, Connolly promises Bulger immunity on his dirty deeds within the city, as long as Bulger is not linked to any murders. Bulger hesitantly agrees, only if it is clear that he is not a “rat” for the FBI, but rather is forming an alliance with them.
As the film goes on, more people mysteriously creep into play, some on Bulger’s side and some not. You will see flawless appearances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch (State Senator, Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother), Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Adam Scott (FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick) and many more.
Bulger doesn’t always hold up his end of the bargain with Connolly, and homicides keep getting linked back to him, putting Connolly in a complex position: whether to cover for his old pal and make himself look better, or to set things straight and do the right thing. As heartless and disturbed as Bulger appears to be, there are scenes where you get a glimpse into his personal life. With his mother, brother and son, he puts forth energy into caring about others that you may have thought highly unlikely.
With Black Mass being Director Scott Cooper’s third movie to direct, he does an immaculate job bridging the gap from the new to the old. The film not only takes place in the 70’s and 80’s, but the look and feel of it makes you believe that it was actually made in that time period. The 35mm wide lens shooting by Japanese cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi (Out of the Furnace, Silver Linings Playbook) is the perfect compliment to the dark anguish that Black Mass so effortlessly portrays.
Johnny Depp was tailor-made for the character of Bulger in Black Mass. There was not one flaw that appeared on-screen, making you question if anyone out there could have been more fitting to play the mass murderer from Boston. After seeing the film, it will be hard for you to forget Depp’s icy-blue eyes and grim, desolate stares.
The real James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested in 2011, and is now serving two consecutive life sentences plus five years at the United States Penitentiary Coleman II in Sumterville, Florida, according to Boston.com.
4.5/5 stars – “Fantasticly dark and a sincerely honest account about the story of a South Boston crime boss.”