Black Mass

Black Mass is a 2015 American biographical crime drama film starring an ensemble cast including Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and Corey Stoll. It was directed by Scott Cooper and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. It is based upon the 2001 novel of the same name. The film chronicles the story of Whitey Bulger from 1975 to the mid-90’s.

Whitey Bulger was the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. John Connolly was an FBI agent and a childhood friend of Bulger’s. Bulger sees an opportunity to eliminate his rivals and turns informant, giving Connolly information to eliminate opposition in exchange for protection from prosecution. Using the FBI as a weapon, Bulger is able to reign supreme as the most powerful crime lord in Boston for years. Due to widespread corruption in the Bureau, nothing was done to prosecute Whitey Bulger or any members of the Winter Hill Gang until a DEA investigation into Bulger in 1994. At that point, Whitey was tipped off by Connolly concerning an impending indictment by the federal government. Whitey remained on the run for 16 years until being captured in 2011. Connolly was arrested in 1999 after, two years earlier in 1997, various media outlets revealed the FBI’s involvement with Bulger.

This is a film that lives and dies by its cast.Gangster films today, for the most part, lack originality. That isn’t the fault of the screenwriters or the directors, it’s just that, after Goodfellas, arguably the last truly original gangster flick, we’ve seen it all before. Just because a film lacks originality, it can still be a great film. Scorsese’s own 1995 film Casino relied heavily on the formula set by its spiritual predecessor, but was still just as engrossing. Depp’s own Donnie Brasco and Public Enemies managed to bring interesting stuff to the table despite the extreme familiarity.

Here, Depp gives his best performance since before he was tapped for Captain Jack. Although Depp achieved fame with my generation playing eccentric characters in ridiculous costume and makeup, he made his bones playing real-life characters like Ed Wood, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joey Pistone. Still a pretty good-looking guy, Depp’s performance as the not-so-good-looking Whitey required extensive makeup and prosthetics.The makeup department did a truly wonderful job here and have received an award nomination for their work. Depp has also won and been nominated for several Best Actor awards for his portrayal of Bulger.

Bulger is straight up terrifying. He is a truly nasty piece of work that I hope never to meet in my life. Someone put it this way “[Depp] looks more like a vampire here than he did in Dark Shadows.” It’s like he’s looking into your soul.

Whitey makes every scene he’s in extremely uncomfortable. You have no idea what he is going to do next and you hold your breath waiting to find out.

Of course, a brilliant actor is nothing without talented actors backing him up. I have always enjoyed Joel Edgerton since I first saw him in the excellent MMA drama film Warrior back in 2011. In summer 2015, his directorial debut The Gift (which he also starred in, wrote, and produced) really impressed me, and may have been one of the best films I had seen all year. He, as usual, gives an amazing performance along with pretty much the entire cast. There isn’t one performance I didn’t enjoy here, and that is the main draw of this film.

The story isn’t original, but it isn’t slow and the screenplay is very good. As I said, the acting is phenomenal from all involved. The cinematography is very well-done, as well. It isn’t a legendary film and won’t be remembered two decades from now, but it is supremely entertaining due to phenomenal performances and I really enjoyed it.

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