“We get the FBI to fight our wars and we do whatever we want to do,” says James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) to his right-hand man, Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane). Whitey makes the confession to Flemmi, revealing his best kept secret as he tries to pulls him in to helping as an informant for the FBI in order to take down the rival mobs in Boston in Black Mass.
Based on the true story of one of the most notorious gangsters in the United States, Black Mass tells the story of how Whitey Bulger, who grew up on the streets of South Boston, rose from being the Godfather of the Irish mob in the 1970s to being the crime lord over all of Boston and parts of Miami. When FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) gets assigned to take down the mafia in Boston he reaches out to his old childhood friend Whitey to help him by giving him information on the headquarters of rival mob bosses so he can plant a wire and secretly record all their conversations. Since Bulger is already at war with the mafia over territory and discovers from John that his rivals are planning to put a hit out on him, Bulger agrees to an alliance with John and the FBI but makes it perfectly clear that he’s not a rat or a snitch.
Over the next decade while the FBI slowly built its case against the mafia, Bulger was a protected informant who used the FBI shield to steal, deal drugs, and murder anyone who got in his way or dared try to inform on him to the Feds. Little by little Connolly and his partner, John Morris (David Harbour), get in deeper and deeper covering up for Bulger’s crimes and Whitey eventually ends up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
Powerful, dark, and gritty, Black Mass is an engrossing crime drama that focuses not just on the violence but on the relationships between Bulger and his crew. The film features hands-down the best performance Johnny Depp has ever given in his career. Depp is sure to grab (and deserves) an Oscar nomination for his chilling portrayal of mobster Whitey Bulger. He captures brilliantly the ruthlessness and cunning of the man but also shows the human side early in the film in the scenes between Bulger, the mother of his child, and his young son. Depp transforms himself into the role, almost completely disappearing with the deadly ice blue eyes, slicked back receding hairline, and lean exterior. It’s a performance that’s sure to stay in the minds of the audience long after they exit the theater.
Joel Edgerton delivers a strong performance as John Connolly, an eager, ambitious FBI agent who sees Bulger as his ticket to making a name for himself as the agent who broke up and destroyed the mafia in Boston. Unfortunately, he ends up getting lost in his admiration of Whitey and the thrill of breaking laws, bending the rules, and looking the other way all in the name of so-called justice. He’s a big believer in the ends justifying the means.
The sets, costumes, and cars are spot on, bringing back to life the 1970s and 80s look and feel. The musical score is great and enhances the tension and emotional impact in many scenes. The direction and pacing are tight and intense, giving the gangster film an uneasy tense feel to many of its scenes which is sure to have the audience almost dreading the next act of violence.
With an unforgettable, stunning performance by Depp in an extremely well-crafted and executed crime film, Black Mass is one of the best films of the year and shouldn’t be missed.
Rated: R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use.
Directed By: Scott Cooper
Running Time: 122 minutes