In Scott Cooper’s new, dark drama, Johnny Depp gives a truly chilling performance as Boston crime kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger, the founding member of the notorious Winter Hill Gang of South Boston. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and even in more recent memory, Bulger worked as an informant for the FBI, providing crucial information to expose rival gangs in agreement that he would not commit murder while allowed to walk the streets of Boston as a free man.
I was skeptical going into the theater only because, in my opinion, Depp has not starred in anything great since “Secret Window” in 2004. I emphasize great because I really wanted “Black Mass” to be as good. I wanted it to be better than “The Departed” (2006), a classic Boston crime thriller.
Depp gave a strong lead performance, but “Black Mass” grabbed my attention from the start mainly because the accents were pretty good; that’s the truth. Boston accents are mimicked often, and plenty of movies set in New England have had actors completely fail when attempting to use the area’s distinct dialect. Joel Edgerton, co-starring as John Connolly, the FBI agent who “helped” Bulger stay in crime, nails his role as well as Depp.
All fans of Johnny Depp have to check this movie out. Although it is incredibly dark at times, “Black Mass” brings to attention the true story of what was going on in the greater Boston area crime world during the latter half of the 20th century. The five reasons you should see this film follow:
- Depp gives a commanding performance that got me thinking about some of the great lead roles in movie history. Yes, it was that good. An absolute menace of a character, Depp’s realistic portrayal of Bulger as a gritty, cold hearted villain, while at the same time calm and occasionally comedic, gave the movie an appeal just like that of “The Departed.”
- The film is very informative about Bulger and his agreement with the FBI. Connolly ( Edgerton) was a childhood friend of Whitey and his brother Billy. Still a resident of South Boston, Connolly started work for the FBI, and instead of shutting down the Winter Hill Gang and its leader, Bulger, he consulted with his boss Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon). He finagled a deal in which Bulger would provide them with information on Italian gang activity in and around Boston and Providence in exchange for his freedom. The movie came to a stunning point when I realized that all of this murder and violent activity surrounding drugs and gangs could have been put to rest at any moment by one man, but he chose childhood loyalty over the assignments of his job. Connolly is still serving a 40-year prison sentence for a murder that he did not commit, or did he have any real connection to beyond associating with Bulger and his acquaintances.
- Bulger’s brother is former President of the Massachusetts Senate and eventual Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Billy Bulger. The family was clearly conflicted. On one side, you have a murderer who would eventually wind up on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list, and a politician working for the betterment of the people of Massachusetts on the other side. Cooper does a good job contrasting Whitey with Billy, making for an interesting scene in which both brothers sit down for lunch at their mother’s house, Whitey looking rugged and unpredictable, and Billy clean cut and professional as ever. Senator Bulger was played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a man brought to light exponentially better next to Depp’s eerie persona.
- Johnny Depp wears blue contacts. Apparently Bulger has incredibly blue eyes, and honestly, it looks pretty cool and only adds to the chilling performance by Depp.
- The cast fits really well together. It’s nice to see a movie set in Boston, with somewhat realistic accents, without the same old actors. Sure, I’ll occasionally watch “The Town”, “Good Will Hunting,” or “The Departed”; all are good movies, but there is always so much overlap in casting. Whenever I hear about a Boston movie, I think Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg, and it seems like it’s always one of those guys playing the role of the Boston guy, whoever it may be. Depp and Edgarton are a nice change.
I’ll give Black Mass an 8/10 because of Depp’s portrayal of Bulger alone, along with a solid supporting cast and good music throughout. The true story is easy to follow and entertaining all the way through. The only thing I thought could have been done better was if Whitey’s life was shown after he started living off the grid on the west coast. That might have been an interesting way to tie up the tale of a man whose story will forever live on in the streets of Boston, Massachusetts.