Biography - Crime Drama
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Screenplay by: Mark Mallouk & Jez Butterworth
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll
This is a biopic of the life of South Boston criminal James Whitey Bulger (Depp), his Winter Hill Gang and his childhood friend FBI special agent, John Connolly (Edgerton). Set in South Boston and spanning two decades from the mid 1970's to mid 1990's the film chronicles Bulger's rise and fall from a two-bit criminal losing ground and business to the Italian Mafia on the city's north side to that of an Irish mob kingpin with his hand in everything - from drugs, bookmaking and extortion to arms trafficking and murder - to his eventual take down. Bulger's success was due in large part to his "alliance" with FBI agent John Connolly who protected him from scrutiny in exchange for information to bring down the Mafia. His brother Billy Bulger (Cumberbatch), former President of the Massachusetts senate was well aware of the arrangement and turned a blind eye. As long as he had protection, Whitey expanded his interests with impunity using his childhood friend's position with the Feds as a shield.
Depp was transformed into an ugly, balding, big-headed thug who killed easily and without emotion. He wisely chose to play this big character in and understated yet powerful way. Edgerton portrayed the opportunistic, in-way-over-his-head FBI agent beautifully; balancing on the knife's edge between loyal Southie neighborhood kid and rising Federal agent, his nerves always underscoring an oft forced bravado.
Beyond the performances of Depp and Edgerton, the movie was rather ordinary, often moving too slowly and without much character depth. The director seemed to enjoy jumping from murder to murder without much storytelling in between. It would have been more interesting if the film delved into Bulger's psyche a bit more than simply showing he had feelings for his son and mother. If the story started earlier with him in Alcatraz taking part in LSD experiments to earn time off his sentence we could have understood the making of this criminal. Instead we were left with a play-by-play of crimes with some law enforcement deflections along the way. There was simply no good story to bite into here, despite the potential.
Seeing the movie for Depp's transformation and Edgerton's performance is worth the time, but wait until it's on cable. It has nothing remotely close to the impact of The Departed, and it is not necessary to experience Black Mass on a big screen.
This armchair critic gives this film a C+