Black Mass

The story of criminal mastermind turned informant James “Whitey” Bulger is fascinating, both in how he rose to absolute power in Boston in the 70’s and in how he managed to get away with all his crimes for so long and evade capture until 2011. Hollywood often exaggerates the real life exploits of people, but in Black Mass’s case the film actually understates how ruthless he truly was.


Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was a prominent figure in the Winter Hill Gang in South Boston, therefore he was prevalent to plenty of criminal happenings around town. In 1975 he caught the eye of FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) and becomes an informant, dishing every detail regarding his competition. For his information, Connolly turns a blind eye to Bulger’s doings. When you’re at the top, everyone wants a piece of the pie. His rise in power also brings a rise in attention, too, and not everyone is as easily swayed as Connolly.


After a string of less than stellar films, Black Mass is being hailed as a return to form for Johnny Depp and with good reason. Depp envelopes the character of Bulger, both in terms of looks and mannerisms. He’s a cold-blooded killer who shows no forgiveness. At the peak of his power there is literally nothing he fears. He has no problem with killing people in broad daylight because he knows he has the town and law enforcement bought. Depp is terrifying in the role and doesn’t hold back.


The deaths in the film are especially brutal. He shoots people point blank, strangles the life out of others, and pummels plenty more with his bare fists. It’s all rather unsettling to watch, especially since we see early on what he’s capable of. Oftentimes you know exactly what’s about to happen, but that doesn’t make the scenes any less shocking.


Black Mass isn’t without its faults, however. Its gangster story can be overly complicated at times. Characters whose names aren’t Whitey Bulger often blend together, and it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who. Also, when Bulger isn’t preoccupied with killing people, the film can somewhat dull. Depp is fantastic as Bulger, but unless the Oscar pool is severely lacking this year, I don’t see him winning any awards.


Black Mass is good, but it fails to be as great as its source material. Johnny Depp finally gives audiences an amazing performance fans have been anxious for, but the story and pacing could have been improved. I guess there’s just no substitute for the real Whitey Bulger.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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