Directed by Scott Cooper Black Mass is a gangster movie starring Johnny Depp. Of course It’s not the first film in which Depp has played the part of a gangster; he played alongside Al Pacino as Donnie Brasco in the film of the same name and of course as John Dillinger the notorious and charismatic bank robber in the film Public Enemies. In this then, his third outing as a gangster, he plays James “Whitey” Bulger an Irish-American career criminal based in Boston.
Based on the testimony of associates turned state’s evidence the film is told in a series of flashbacks. It’s 1975 and Bulger as leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill gang controls most of the organised crime in South Boston, “Southy”. Ruthless but strictly small-time, he is able to moves it up a gear or two when FBI agent John Connelly, played by Joel Edgerton, moves back to the neighbourhood.
A childhood friend of both Whitey and his brother William “Billy” Bulger the Massachusetts State President, played by Benedict Cumberbach, Connelly is obsessed with infiltrating and bringing down the mob-connected Angiulo Brothers and in the process making a name for himself. He persuades Whitey Bulger to become an FBI informant to help him in this. In return he offers to shield Whitey from prosecution for his illegal activities. Quickly though it becomes clear that for Conneley the end will justify the means – any means, including fabricating and supressing evidence – as Whitey, through murder and intimidation and protected by the informant relationship, exploits this relationship to expand and extend his illegal empire far beyond Boston to Miami, Florida and even to include gun-running for the IRA. Ultimately it is this relationship that leads to the undoing of all involved as the lines between right and wrong become first blurred and then crossed.
Among others, this taut crime drama has been compared to The Departed the movie which featured outstanding work from an excellent cast including Jack Nicholson’s in the lead as Boston crime boss Frank Costello. Similarly, Black Mass, while cited by some as a career-best for Depp - and certainly his performance is a real tour de force – also benefits from some great supporting performances. However, unlike Nicholson’s over the top acting in the Departed, it is Depp’s studied and understated performance that dominates the screen. The film has action and violence and when it does happen it is quick, brutal, and casual – just another day at the office - but it is the quiet measured attitude that Depp brings to the central character and the chilling look in his ice blue grey eyes that provides the menace and creates the tension that runs throughout this film.
If you like the genre and enjoyed watching films like American Gangster, Donnie Brasco, The Departed, Goodfellas or The French Connection then you should put Black Mass on your must watch list