By Isaac Feldman
Johnny Depp delivers his darkest performance in years with his wicked new film “Black Mass”.
Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), Black Mass takes place in a mob run 1970-80s Boston. The film follows Irish Kingpin Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp). Besides the convincing transformation of Depp, Black Mass is jam packed with an absolutely stacked cast including Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead), Adam Scott (Step Brothers), Dakota Johnson (50 shades of Grey), and Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings). Each provide their own level of substance even as secondary characters.
Edgerton is a focal point of the film as he plays a bendy, non-confrontational FBI agent named John Connolly who grew up with Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger in South Boston. Obviously the two went in opposite directions: jail-time for Whitey and a government job for Connolly, but once Bulger gets out of the can and back to the streets the two cross paths.
Agent Connolly, an opportunist jumps at the chance to be involved with Bulger, as the two grew up together as “southies,” (South Boston Born Irishmen). Connolly convinces the FBI that the only way they can bring down the Italian mob is with Bulger’s help. And the only way to get Whitey’s aid, according to Connolly, is to have a fellow “southie” get in deep with the gangster Bulger. This is where the “based on a true story” hurts the film. Connolly’s ability to persuade his Bureau that giving Whitey Bulger, a dangerous mobster, free reign of the city in exchange for insight to take down the Italian Mafia is mind blowing and hardly believable. Apparently the true story didn’t have a protagonist to really challenge Whitey Bulger. Whitey seemed to move through the city untouched…I was NEVER concerned of a Bulger slip-up with the FBI or rival gangs. The police force seemed way too absent. Now on the flipside, with a powerful Bulger, we got to see his goons walk on eggshells around him and left us with some nail biting scenes of tension acted out scarily well by Depp.
Black Mass doesn’t have a real back story (which isn’t bad) it progresses rather quickly, eavesdropping on characters and their current messed up situations. The movie introduces and departs characters mob-style, with more hits than Pete Rose. What I would have liked more of was the Bulger family dynamic. There were only a few interactions that showed the brutal Whitey letting his guard down, certainly room for a character growth out of Bulger. Though the film had a gloomy tone, sprinkled in very nicely was the dark humor. One scene shows Bulger teaching his son a lesson about playground bullying; let’s just say the apple is uncomfortably close to the tree…
At just over 2 hours Black Mass keeps our attention locked. Director Scott Cooper has given us a mob movie that can absolutely be considered Martin Scorsese-esque. Not only did we see a variety of actors in different rolls, but we saw a can’t miss performance from Johnny Depp. Seriously, if you’re a Depp fan or have avoided him because of his past “soft” movies you can enjoy him here. Black Mass gives him the platform to flex his muscles, establish himself as a Boston bad ass, and potentially win an Oscar! Besides leaving me wanting a little more depth from this film, Black Mass will keep you entertained with sharp dialogue, and Johnny Depp’s transformation will make for interesting conversation at the water cooler.
My Grade: B+
SIDE BAR: Boston Crime movies are on a nice little hit streak with “The Departed (2006),” “The Town (2010),” and now “Black Mass” giving us quality southie underworld movies.
BACK BAR: Stay for the credits…