BLACK MASS – Review by Susan Granger
For more than two decades, James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) was South Boston’s criminal kingpin. His extraordinary power emanated from his friendship with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who masterminded the destruction of the rival Italian Mafia, utilizing information fed to him by Bulger. And it didn’t hurt that Whitey’s brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), was a powerful, highly respected politician, rising to the presidency of the Massachusetts State Senate. Read more…
Back in 1975, Whitey Bulger was approached by his ambitious childhood friend Connolly to inform on other criminals. Instead of considering it “ratting,” they felt they’d made a mutually profitable “business opportunity.”
“An alliance like this doesn’t weaken you,” Connolly assured him. “It makes you stronger.”
Indeed, after that, Whitey’s tight-knit Winter Hill gang engaged in extortion, loan-sharking, drug-dealing, murder, even smuggling weapons to the IRA – with impunity – until Boston Globe journalists Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill revealed the truth about the corruption.
Based on Lehr and O’Neill’s “Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal” (2001), it’s adapted by Mark Mallouk and Jaz Butterworth, structured around actual testimony, and ferociously directed by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”), evoking memories of “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather,” and “The Departed.”
Johnny Depp delivers what may be considered the best of his career: a serious, totally convincing portrayal of this menacing Irish mobster. Having garnered Oscar nominations for “Sweeney Todd,” “Finding Neverland,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” this may be Depp’s turn to win.
According to press notes, Depp tried in vain to meet with Bulger, now serving two life sentences plus five years in prison. But Bulger’s lawyer, Jay Carney, visited the set and praised Depp’s performance.
Depp’s physical transformation into the balding, blue-eyed Whitey was created by Joel Harlow, his longtime make-up artist. Plus, there are superb supporting turns from Julianne Nicholson, Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple and Corey Stoll.
FYI: Warner Bros. has always been considered the #1 gangster-film studio because Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, along with Paul Muni and George Raft, established and defined their careers as tough guys.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Black Mass” is a seedy, sadistic 7, featuring Johnny Depp as the sociopathic crime lord.