Plot: The film depicts the true story of Whitey Bulger, a prominent leader of organized crime in South Boston. Whitey is the brother of Massachusetts State Senator William Bulger. Following a string of violent acts, he becomes an FBI informant for 30 years in order to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. The film focuses on the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Whitey was solidifying his position as leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang.
Review: Black Mass is a dark, gritty take on Boston’s most notorious gangster – James “Whitey” Bulger. To be honest, I did not know too much about Bulger before hearing about Black Mass. I was aware that Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was loosely based on his life story(Jack Nicholson’s character of course being Bulger) and we all know how great that movie turned out to be. The only difference between the two movies – we finally get the true story of Whitey Bulger and John Connolly’s “unholy alliance” between the Winter Hill Gang and the FBI. This is the type of story that movies are made of. Add to that a brilliant cast led by Johnny Depp and director Scott Cooper helming the camera, Black Mass proves to be the best of 2015.
Rather than being a biopic that starts off with Bulger being a child, we get him right at the beginning of his reign in 1975 in Boston, Massachusetts. Smart choice by director Scott Cooper since it keeps the movie fast paced. The viewers are then introduced to FBI agent John Connolly(played brilliantly by Joel Edgerton), who’s main goal is to take down the mafia and move up the ranks of the bureau. Let me just get this out of the way – we all know that mostly everyone will walk out of the theater talking about Johnny Depp, but Joel Edgerton deserves a lot of credit also. Viewers should be aware that this isn’t a movie just about Bulger, it’s about Connolly too. The film is pretty much based on the agreement that the two of them had. Bulger would be an informant for Connolly so the FBI could take down the mafia, and in return the FBI would turn the other cheek towards the acts of the Winter Hill Gang. Actor Joel Edgerton who is playing second lead(only to Johnny Depp) does a fantastic job. I’m sure it’s not an easy task to share the screen with Depp and not get out shined, but he carries his weight. Edgerton plays Connolly as a “do whatever it takes to get to the top” type of man. He wants to move up so desperately, that he enlists the help of his childhood friend Bulger, even though he is one of the most feared gangsters in Boston. Add to the fact that Whitey Bulger’s younger brother(William “Billy” Bulger played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is the President of the Massachusetts Senate just makes the story that much more interesting. It’s too bad that Cumberbatch didn’t get too much screen time since his part seems very minor.
Now let’s talk about the man of the hour – Mr. Johnny Depp. It’s no secret that Johnny Depp, once known as one of the great actors of our era, hasn’t really had the best track record of late. Look at his last three movies -Mortdecai, Transcendence, and The Lone Ranger. Hell, even a year before that he starred in Dark Shadows. All four of those movies received negative feedback(sorry Johnny). If anyone is happy that Depp appears to be “back”, it’s this guy right here. I think the world has been awaiting for Depp to return and drive a great movie with a great performance. We get that with Black Mass. I remember from the trailers, people complained about the make-up on Depp and called it distracting. Kind of like the reaction people gave Steve Carell for his role in Foxcatcher. But once the movie starts, you forget it’s Depp playing the notorious gangster. With his thinning hair, sharp blue eyes, and rotting teeth- Depp looks like pure evil. There are a lot of great and disturbing scenes featuring Bulger, but my favorite might be where he is talking to John Connolly’s wife and slowly moving his hand all over her face while somewhat threatening her to keep her mouth shut. If there was ever a time to give Johnny Depp an Academy Award for Best Actor, now would be the time. Depp gives Bulger so much charisma and personality, that you forget he is the villain. He knocks the role out of the park. Let’s just hope that Black Mass will be the start of a winning streak for Depp, I know my fingers will be crossed.
Of course we can’t forget about director Scott Cooper living up to the expectations that his past movies(Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) has set. While Out of the Furnace wasn’t as good as Crazy Heart, Black Mass in my opinion surpasses both. He seems to be a shoe in for at least a nomination for Best Director during the upcoming award season. The rest of the cast do a great job also(especially Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott who play fellow FBI agents). We might start seeing Adam Scott be in more dramatic roles after this movie.
Before watching this movie, I did get a chance to view the documentary about Bulger’s life on Netflix. I highly recommend the documentary for people who have no idea about the story. I was surprised that the movie didn’t have too much on Stephen Flemmi, but it makes sense for the movie to focus on the two main characters(Bulger and Connolly). A bunch of key moments that were described in the documentary were played out on screen in Black Mass. I’m scared to describe a lot of scenes from the movie because I simply don’t want to give too much away for the viewers. But I can say this, in my opinion Black Mass is the best movie of 2015. It has a great cast, director, and most importantly – a great story. When you combine all of those key elements in a movie, you are almost guaranteed success. Warner Bros. sure has a hit on their hand as I see the movie not only being a strong presence during award season, but also doing well at the box office. Black Mass deserves its place among the great gangster movies of all time. I give Black Mass a 10/10.