Black Mass Director: Scott Cooper
Screenwriter: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R | 122 Minutes
Release Date: September 18, 2015
Directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace), Black Mass depicts the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang.
In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades the Irish-American mobster to work with the FBI to bring down a common enemy: the Italian mob. After making a name for himself through loansharking, bookmaking, and extortion, Bulger would become one of the most dangerous gangsters in history, all with the help of the United States government.
Depp’s Bulger is a fascinating, terrifying individual. With his pallid flesh and icy blue-gray eyes, Whitey is the Count Dracula of South Boston, a creature of the night who preys upon innocence, feeding off the city and sucking it dry.
He is surrounded by familiars – Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown) – loyal servants who carry out his bidding in broad daylight. These men collect cash and bury bodies, keeping their master’s hands clean as he expands his empire with complete impunity.
Connolly, meanwhile, is blinded by his own ambition – he’s in too deep, addicted to the power that comes with playing both sides of the field. Like Bulger, Connolly’s influence spreads like a cancerous black mass, infecting and corrupting other agents like David Harbour‘s John Morris. He shields Bulger from investigation by his superiors (Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll) to the point where it’s unclear which mob Connolly is more loyal to: the FBI or Winter Hill.
A mix of The Departed and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Black Mass is an artful, operatic gangster film with compelling performances and beautiful cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, Warrior). Cooper’s film is engaging despite the fact that the gangster sub-genre hasn’t changed that much since the days of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
While it isn’t on the level of Scorsese or Coppola, Black Mass succeeds thanks to an incredible cast and Johnny Depp’s best performance in over a decade. His icy, hyper-violent turn as Whitey Bulger is complemented nicely by Joel Edgerton, whose character grew up in the streets of South Boston with Whitey and his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Like Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan in The Departed, Edgerton’s Connolly becomes a mole – an informant for Whitey to help the mobster stay one step ahead of the law. Connolly becomes a hot-shot, wearing extravagant suits and gaudy jewelry while lubing up coworkers with Red Sox tickets to keep them from prying into his mob dealings.
Black Mass is tense, gripping, and incredibly entertaining. Whitey Bulger is a mythic entity, like something from ancient folklore – a monster in the guise of a good Irish Catholic boy, a vampire so powerful he can glamour the federal government into giving him free rein. Cooper never shrinks away from the brutality – the wickedness – of Whitey’s story. Everyone involved is committed to the darkness, and the result is a chilling, tightly wound crime thriller that is impressive from start to finish.