Inspired by the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger, Black Mass is a modern day mob story proving that real life is not always as exciting as fiction.
Release Date: September 18, 2015
Writer: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton
Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) is one of many mob bosses in 1970’s Boston. When a childhood friend, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns to his hometown of Boston, he brokers an alliance with Whitey and the FBI. Whitey would give up intelligence on the Italian mob in Boston, and the FBI would turn a blind eye to Whitey’s activities as long as it didn’t include drugs and murder.
Black Mass follows two paths: Bulger’s and Agent Connolly. With a deal in place, Bulger gains a higher level of confidence and power. This power turns for the worse, when his son becomes brain dead from meningitis, and his girlfriend, Lindsey (Dakota Johnson) wants to pull the plug. Bulger becomes more power hungry and more merciless.
The real story of Black Mass is that of Agent John Connolly. Assigned to his hometown of Boston, Connolly is interested in justice. But justice soon conflicts with loyalty because, as kids, Bulger protected Connolly. The FBI deal was brokered out of Connolly’s loyalty to Bulger. Connolly’s loyalty to Bulger soon becomes more important than even his job.
The main problem with Black Mass is that it is just not that interesting. Sometimes real life is not as exciting on screen as an over-the-top fictional story. There is a line that filmmakers walk between telling a true story using the actual facts and stretching the truth to make the story engaging. Black Mass serves only to document the events surround Bulger and the FBI.
We see themes that are not new to the mob genre. The most obvious is Bulger’s personal corruption from the vast amounts of power he’s given. Bulger also becomes paranoid and kills anyone who can possibly end his comfortable life of crime.
Johnny Depp is a good actor, but as Whitey Bulger it is more about the make-up and character affectation than about creating a unique character. The supporting actors also do an excellent job portraying their real life characters. One riveting moment is Bulger confronting John Connolly’s wife, Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), who chooses not to join the corrupt Bulger at a Bar-B-Que at her home. It is the tension of this moment when Bulger accuses Marianne of being rude to not only her guest but to the mobster Bulger.
At best, Black Mass is a fine docu-drama of Whitey Bulger and how he manipulated the FBI. Void of anything original or big moments, Black Mass will be just another mob movie.