My Rating: 8 out of 10
The first thing that stands out about Black Mass, whether you know anything about the story of Whitey Bulger or not, is the incredibly long list of phenomenal actors and actresses associated with the film. In fact, this list was what initially got me interested in the movie, long before I saw the first of many trailers and became excited about the story as well.
Black Mass is the real life story of James “Whitey” Bulger (played by Johnny Depp), a notorious Irish mobster that teamed up with the FBI through connections with his childhood friend, John Connelly (played by Joel Edgerton), in order to take down the Mafia in South Boston back in the 1970s. Of course, things go poorly for the FBI, as is usually the case when “good guys” team up with the “bad guy” to catch other bad guys, and Whitey Bulger is more or less given free reign over the city.
One of the things that make this film so incredible is the story it tells, which would be completely absurd and unbelievable if it weren’t largely true. While there is disagreement on the validity of all of the behind-the-scenes gangster stuff, Bulger’s rise to power with the help of John Connelly and his senator brother, Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is indisputable. Being less than five years since the capture of Bulger in California by the FBI, this was the perfect time to tell his story.
Going into the film, I knew very little about the story it was going to tell outside of the name Whitey Bulger and the bits I had seen in the many trailers that were circulating on the internet and television. However, the film was made so well that there was no need for any background information on any of the characters. We were introduced to each of them as their world came to life on the screen
In fact, I think the massive marketing with all the different trailers ended up showing me a little more of the movie than I would have liked. Not to say that anything major was spoiled for me, but some of the more powerful scenes are played out in their entirety in some of the trailers. So, if you have the opportunity to see the movie and haven’t yet been inundated by trailers, I recommend going to see it now.
While the story was indeed captivating and thrilling, the thing that made Black Mass a great film was the casting and portrayal of the characters. Johnny Depp especially stood out in a way that he has not in years. With the make-up alone, he became a completely different person and was almost unrecognizable. But his portrayal of Whitey Bulger was phenomenal, as he managed to balance the right amount of creepiness with the right amount of friendliness. Bulger was crazy and devoid of emotion, but also relatable in many ways, which made him much creepier and more compelling.
All the characters were realistic and human, but Depp’s Bulger was iconic in the same way that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was back in 2008. I would be shocked if he didn’t receive a nomination for the role in the upcoming Academy Awards. With that said, my only issue with Bulger’s character was that I wanted to know a little more about why he was the way he was. What sort of things happened in his childhood to create the man that was presented to us? I feel that the writers didn’t want to go too in depth since that could cause the story to veer into the realm of fiction if there wasn’t enough information to ascertain what made this man tick, but I really wish there had been more to explain him.
Overall, I absolutely recommend going to see Black Mass even if you have no interest in gangsters solely because of the phenomenal acting. There will certainly be an actor or actress that you enjoy in this film, though their accent will be strange and they may seem crammed into a film already crowded with familiar faces. Definitely one of the best films of the year so far!