Matt’s Movies: Depp Rises above Black Mass


Matt Chouinard, Film Critic


When a movie draws its ideas from true source material it is a usually a recipe for success, and this is exactly the case with Black Mass. It reflects on a story in history that not everyone may be familiar with. This creates added interest in learning about the bizarre true story that took place around James “Whitey” Bulger in Boston. This interest is merited as the movie delivers a wonderful performance and a very interesting story, although one short on excitement at times.


Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, is the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger(Johnny Depp) and how he came to rule South Boston in the 1970’s and 80’s, eventually making the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Not only was he a famous mob boss, but his brother, William Bulger(Benedict Cumberbatch), was a senator, and his childhood buddy, John Connolly(Joel Edgerton), was a FBI agent. The lives of these three childhood friends would continue to cross paths even after their careers took them in wildly different directions.


The best thing about Black Mass is the performance of Johnny Depp in the lead role. He captivates with his portrayal of the ruthless mob boss who is out to rule Boston, and quite cunning in his pursuits. Depp completely disappears into the role, looking wildly different, which is not unusual for him. This time though, Depp’s transformation doesn’t feel forced, or obscure. We feel as though we are really watching the character onscreen, and not the actor attempting to pull off playing this character. He definitely pulls off the transformation and gives a performance that isn’t too over the top, allowing for an excellent depiction of one of the most wanted criminals in American history.


The rest of the cast does well supporting the storyline. Joel Edgerton is convincing as John Connolly, an FBI agent having to walk the line of doing what’s right and remaining loyal to childhood friendships. Benedict Cumberbatch is underused, but solid in the role of William Bulger. He doesn’t really have time to do much with the role he’s given, but it’s still good supporting work. Kevin Bacon also shows up in a supporting role as Connolly’s boss at the FBI. It’s limited screen time but he does very well with it. Again, it all goes back to Johnny Depp, as the rest of the movie and characters revolve around his performance. It’s what keeps the audience engaged.


The storyline of Black Mass is interesting and drawing from real life occurrences definitely helps drive it forward. The premise provides great setup of this story, as you have a mob boss, a senator, and a FBI agent all intermingling in each other’s lives as a result of growing up together. The unity within their personal lives and opposition within their professional lives present a constant conflict throughout the entire movie that is very interesting to think about. It’s almost hard to believe that it’s a true story.
This interest is what keeps the audience watching throughout and entertained for the most part, although the story isn’t the most upbeat journey. We watch Bulger make his progression up the ranks, slowly becoming more and more powerful, but there aren’t really any climactic moments of opposition. The pacing is a little slow and the action scenes are few and far between, mostly consisting of intermittent gang violence. The film is good at what it is going about doing, but it involves more of a tedious pace that may be a turnoff to some.


Black Mass is a movie that sets itself up with an interesting premise and informs with its true story. As far as gangster movies go, this one is a little on the slow side, but still presents all the engaging points of the genre. It’s a movie that showcases one of the best performances by Johnny Depp in recent years, which is the driving force by which this movie succeeds. It’s not for everyone, as it is violent and may be found uninteresting by some. If you have interest in the subject matter though you will find Black Mass to be an interesting story that should at least be seen once. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys movies based on true stories, or is a fan of Johnny Depp.