Johnny Depp plays real life gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in “Black Mass,” the latest film from Director Scott Cooper. The film starts in the mid-1970s and focuses on Bulger as a powerful crime lord in Boston and an FBI informant.
The film is told through flashbacks from the perspective of multiple true-to-life characters who are being interrogated by law enforcement.
Sometimes in gangster or mafia films, there is a tendency to add a bit too much glitz and glamour to the lifestyle, almost making the behavior admirable in certain cases. That’s not present in “Black Mass.” From start to finish, the movie has a dark, heavy tone and it’s very effective.
The violence and corruption is delivered in a straightforward manner with a high dose of grittiness and realism which puts the audience right in the center of Boston’s underground world from a few decades ago.
“Black Mass” also benefited from Cooper’s usage of having characters be in “present-day” interrogations which led to flashbacks. The film covers about 20 years of events and having the film play out like a law enforcement investigation made the time-hopping aspects go by smoothly.
That’s not to say that “Black Mass” is completely void of a few dull moments, though. There were certainly a few scenes that went on a bit too long and from a visual standpoint, the movie doesn’t offer anything that pops off the screen.
The best part of “Black Mass” is arguably Depp’s performance as Bulger. Every single moment that Depp is on screen, he steals the show because of how menacing his character is. As previously stated, “Black Mass” doesn’t try to sugar coat or glamorize the gangster lifestyle, and Depp’s performance is the best showing of this.
Bulger was a maniacal criminal who murdered people and often made a profit doing so, and Depp showcases this perfectly, pulling off a performance that is both terrifying and disturbing.
Starring opposite of Depp in “Mass” is Joel Edgerton who played John Connolly. Connolly was an FBI agent who at first planned to simply use Bulger as an informant, however, he eventually started to fall in too deep with the gangsters he was surrounded by.
The two main characters of “Black Mass” were basically different sides of the same coin, with both being obviously in the wrong, but with Bulger being the blatant criminal and Connolly trying to have a normal life as an FBI agent while still getting perks from a criminal enterprise.
In this sense, Edgerton does a solid job in being the contrasting character to Depp’s Bulger and it makes for some compelling drama on screen.
The film is backed up with a strong supporting cast, too, with performers such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Peter Sarsgaard all delivering effective depictions.
“Black Mass” may not be as high on the totem pole as some other gangster greats and it does suffer from time to time from a few dull scenes, but overall, this is a very good picture. The acting is solid and the crew didn’t hold any punches with displaying the criminal elements. 4 out of 5.