Synopsis: Black Mass is the true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
Release Date: September 18, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Biography, Crime
One of last year’s most fascinating movies was Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, a captivating documentary about career-criminal-turned-FBI-informant James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. The story was so unbelievable that it left many people thinking that it would make a good crime drama. Well, Hollywood thought of that, too, and the movie is called Black Mass.
Starring Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows) as Bulger, Black Mass tells the story of the criminal’s rise from two-bit street hood to Boston’s biggest Irish crime boss, thanks in no small part to a deal that he makes with his childhood friend John Connolly (The Gift‘s Joel Edgerton), who also happens to be an FBI agent. Interested in nailing the Italian mafia, Connolly offers to turn a blind eye to Whitey’s illegal activities in exchange for information about the other crime families in the city. With the other syndicates out of the way, the city of Boston basically belongs to Whitey, but his alliance with the FBI is tested when he breaks the one rule that Connolly gives him – do not murder anyone.
The screenplay for Black Mass was written by Mark Mallouk (better known as the producer of Rush and Everest) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow, Get on Up), based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The facts of Bulger’s life, which were also detailed in Berlinger’s documentary, are fairly well-known, but Black Mass takes a bit of dramatic license in a few places to make the film more, well, dramatic. Black Mass is actually a good companion film to Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, as many of the misdeeds and crimes that are detailed in the documentary come to vivid life in the film. Plus, seeing the aftermath of Bulger’s crimes in Berlinger’s doc just capitalizes the T in Black Mass‘ “Based on a True Story.”
There are a number of target audiences for Black Mass, and all of them will be pleased with it. Fans of true crime movies will enjoy it just as much as fans of gangster films will. Johnny Depp fans may be taken aback a bit by it; he is almost as unrecognizable in it as he was in Tusk, and that skully bald look isn’t a good one for him. It’s a good thing for him – and for Black Mass – that he can act.
Front to back, Black Mass has an incredible cast. Of course, Johnny Depp is the star, and he turns in a chameleonic performance, actually becoming Whitey Bulger for much of the film. The other lead is Joel Edgerton, and he is able to go toe-to-toe with Depp in every scene that they share. But the star power in Black Mass does not stop there. Fan-favorite Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, The Fifth Estate) plays Whitey’s brother, Billy, who happens to be a prominent Boston politician, and he practically channels JFK with his portrayal. Whitey’s henchman are played menacingly by Jesse Plemons (who takes another step in furthering himself from his “Friday Night Lights” days) and Rory Cochrane (Oculus, Argo). Similarly, Connolly’s FBI cronies are portrayed competently by David Harbour (A Walk Among the Tombstones) and Adam Scott (The Overnight). Kevin Bacon (X-Men: First Class) shows up as a DEA agent who butts heads with both Whitey and Connolly. The extraordinary ensemble also includes Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey), Peter Sarsgaard (“The Slap”), Corey Stoll (Non-Stop), Julianne Nicholson (“Masters of Sex”), and Juno Temple (Afternoon Delight), all of whom play small yet important roles in the film.
An interesting observation about the actors in Black Mass is the fact that, with the exception of Bacon and Cumberbatch, all of the men seem to wear facial prosthetics and elaborate hairpieces, making most of them barely recognizable. In a world where actors live and die by two things – their looks and their talent – covering up their faces takes away half of that equation. All of the guys seem comfortable in their Halloween-like getups, and some, including Depp, seem to even embrace their new styles. The cast of Black Mass does a great job, even if it does take a few minutes for the audience to figure out who each actor is underneath all the hair and makeup.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Scott Cooper
- Producer(s): Scott Cooper, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson
- Screenwriter(s): Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, Dick Lehr
- Story: Gerard O’Neill
- Cast: Johnny Depp (James ‘Whitey’ Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire), Peter Sarsgaard (Brian Halloran), Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks), Rory Cochrane (Steve Flemmi), Adam Scott (FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick), David Harbour (John Morris), Corey Stoll (Fred Wyshak), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Julianne Nicholson (Marianne Connolly)
- Editor(s): David Rosenbloom
- Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
- Costume Designer: Kasia Walicka-Maimone
- Casting Director(s): Francine Maisler
- Music Score: Tom Holkenborg
- Country Of Origin: USA