Murder, drugs, Jai Alai, the Irish, the Italians, Senators, the FBI, DEA, IRA, police, prostitutes, 1970’s Boston, Miami and an incredible ensemble of talented actors all participating in the telling of real life crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger. If you’re looking for a film that has everything from corruption to redemption this might be it.
It starts with Kevin Weeks (Jessie Plemons) stating, on the record, that he isn’t an informant or rat and he is strictly doing business. This is important because it references to something later revealed in the film. From there the audience is thrown into the movie with story telling split between the “present day” and previous events. A story telling device that works to keep the plot moving and it allows the story to jump forward in time without missing a beat. The audience is introduced to topics and events and then we jump back to see them brilliantly acted out.
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of “Whitey” Bulger, nefarious and ruthless crime lord, was chilling. The steady ease in which he delivers his lines only to then murder people leaves you believing everything on screen. His methods of murder change so keep your eyes open. Cold and determined, loyal to his family and childhood friends until the end, this character is developed and intriguing to watch.
In fact, every character was so believable that the audience should enjoy the film without being pulled out by poor acting or distractions. The only thing that seemed a bit off was the wispy soft voice and accent of Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), Whitey’s brother. The accent was believable however it was gentle in comparison to the other male counterparts in the film. A rough and tumble group of male actors who were either criminals or law enforcement, the audience was treated to men of determined spirits, be they just or unjust. This allowed for Billy Bulger to stand out as his speech was more subdued.
FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) was probably the performance of the film. The changes he shows from being a confident and smooth talking agent to the despair and panic as he sees the case unravelling was award worthy. Connolly had the largest arc in terms of character development. You could see the change not just in his mannerisms but in his expressions and ability to silver tongue his colleagues. If you had any trouble picking up on it there’s a brief mention during a conversation with his wife to firmly establish his is the performance to watch.
Scott Cooper directed this film and he has an impressive list of films under his belt. His talents as a director are obvious as this film leaves little to question. The art, the clothes, the design of the houses, the cars, the attitudes are all reminiscent of a time now gone. He had a power house cast to work with and he delivered on getting the best performance from each actor.
This film is rated R for good reason. There’s violence a plenty that leaves little to the imagination. The language is also stereotypical of what you’d expect Boston street thugs to sound like. If you enjoy gangster films you will not be disappointed.
“Black Mass” isn’t a special effects driven movie but the actors are all so wonderful it warrants a theater screening. This might be the film that ushers in “Oscar Season” or it might be the warm up, it’s that good. The tension that builds between Whitey and the FBI all the way into the finale is intense and once the film resolves you sit back, exhale and smile because you know what you just watched was a quality film.
I give it two thumbs up and encourage everyone to play “8 Degrees of Separation with Kevin Bacon” because he’s also in this film.
If you’ve already seen it, please comment below and share your thoughts!