Johnny Depp has an impressive acting career under his belt with such varied roles as Edward Scissorhands, Capt. Jack Sparrow, and Hunter S Thompson. Most people easily recognize him from these and other light-hearted roles, so the thought of Depp as the ruthless crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger is hard to wrap one’s head around. However, Depp is flawless in “Black Mass,” directed by Scott Cooper.
This movie follows the life of Whitey Bulger; one of Boston’s most ruthless crime lords in the 1970’s and 80’s. Bulger was a “small-time” criminal in the 1970’s, but FBI agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), who grew up in South Boston (Southie) with Bulger, decided to help his childhood friend by making him an informant. With Bulger’s informant status, he is granted immunity for his crimes as long as he continues to give the FBI solid leads on criminals.
When the movie begins, Bulger’s brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), has just become a Massachusetts senator, his mother (Mary Klug) and son (Luke Ryan) are dear to him, and Whitey seems to have some redeeming qualities. He loves to see his son whenever he comes home, and he lets his mother beat him at cards.
As the movie progresses, Bulger’s son dies at a very young age, his wife (Dakota Johnson) leaves him, and a few years later his mother dies as well. The more people Bulger loses, the more ruthless she becomes.
Similarly, the more Connelly works with Bulger, the more the lines between FBI agent and criminal blur. Connelly does everything in his power to cover for Bulger, and this leads to serious problems for him when a new agent, Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll), comes to work at the office.
The spot-on Boston accents from the entire cast are a major part of what makes the movie feel real. It is amusing to hear Cumberbatch give a perfect Boston accent, especially for anyone who watches him play Sherlock Holmes on the BBC series.
While the movie is fantastic, it is not for squeamish people or people who do not like the “F” word. There are several scenes where people are brutally murdered, and not much is left to the imagination. Also, in keeping with the gangster jargon, the “F” word is used many times in almost every scene.
Depp always stands out in each scene as Bulger with his pale, bald head contrasted with his trusty black leather jacket. With his tinted sunglasses and impassable stare, it is hard to know what he is thinking, but when he removes the glasses and stares at the camera with piecing blue eyes, a chill runs down viewers’ spines.
There is little in the way of a soundtrack in the movie, but one scene in a 1980’s Miami nightclub with 80’s dance music uses the strobe lights and upbeat music to its advantage. The bawdy club scene flashes back and forth between the characters dancing, Bulger eyeing the room with an impenetrable gaze, and a man being shot and stuffed in his trunk in the parking lot.
“Black Mass” is a great gangster movie that not only shocks audiences with its brutality and coldness, but accurately tells the story of James “Whitey” Bulger. Although Bulger and his associates are utterly despicable characters, the audience still cares about the movie because it is hard to believe all of this was allowed to happen under the gaze of the FBI. Moviegoers who do not like a lot of blood or profanity should stay away from this one, but due to the outstanding acting and visuals I give this a 5/5.