I’ve been really looking forward to Black Mass for a long time. When the FBI finally caught Whitey Bulger in the summer of 2011, I became familar with one of the most ruthless and terrifying criminals in U.S. history, but it didn’t shock me that Hollywood would make a film on the dude’s life. His life inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, so you knew that the real life story would be a helluva ride. The film, which is based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, has been trying to get off of the ground for years. I remember there being a salary dispute between Johnny Depp and the studio before they came to an agreement and Depp signed on to play the infamous gangster. Scott Cooper, the director of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, directs this true crime epic. Here’s the review.
This film really isn’t a biopic of Bulger’s life. It chronicles his time in South Boston between the 1970’s and the early 1990’s, which Bulger was in charge of the infamous Winter Hill gang. After getting tipped off that a rival Italian gang is going to kill him, Bulger becomes an F.B.I. informant, thanks to John Connolly, an agent who grew up with Bulger, and is played by Joel Edgerton. As an informant, Bulger is able to do practically whatever he wants, as long as he doesn’t get caught killing anybody. Nobody can touch Bulger now, and not just because his brother Billy, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a very powerful and influential politician. The problem is that Connolly’s relationship with Bulger is questionable, and is a bit more than just being an informant. The craziest thing about this crazy story is that all of it is true.
Cooper directs a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk, although Cooper did re-write a good chunk of the film but didn’t get any writing credit. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Cooper’s work as a director so far, as I did enjoy Crazy Heart but was honestly very bored watching Out of the Furnance. But this is easily the best film he’s made by far, and for a few really terrific reasons. The first being the incredible performance by Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. The actor is unrecognizable as the infamous gangster, and is just as sadistic, evil, charming, and terrifying as many have described the real Bulger as in the past. The other standout of the cast is Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, who gives arguably the best performance of his career by far. I wouldn’t be shocked if the two receive acting nominations throughout awards season.
The rest of the cast is also terrific, with actors ranging from Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, and more. It’s a big cast, and the actors help move the film together. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a sucker for true crime. I’m a big fan of crime films, and I’m an even bigger fan of true crime stories (my favorite film of all time, Goodfellas, being one of them). This film is obviously no Goodfellas, but it’s a well crafted and very entertaining crime piece. What I liked about Cooper’s direction with the film was that it’s not a flashy and over-the-top film. Instead, it’s a character-centric story that relies on dialogue and great performances for the most part. The film does have its flaws, as the sequences involving Dakota Johnson’s character should’ve been cut out (the filmmakers cut out scenes featuring Sienna Miller as Bulger’s girlfriend whom he ran away with).
But that’s honestly the one thing that bothered me with the film. I really enjoyed Black Mass, which is easily one of the best films of the year by far. I’m not getting my hopes up for the film to be a major awards contender, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Edgerton and Depp got some attention. There isn’t a whole lot currently out at the moment, so if you wanna go to the movies this weekend, and you’re a big true crime fan like I am, then you’ll get some enjoyment out of Black Mass.