As soon as I laid eyes on the poster for ‘Black Mass’ at the cinema a few months ago, I knew that not only would I endeavour to see the picture as fast as I could, but that I would indubitably love it. Call it a zeal for gangster flicks, or a rampant obsession with the story of one of the most notorious U.S. criminals of all time, James “Whitey” Bulger, but like my grandpa used to always say: “when ya know, ya just know”. ‘Black Mass’ has given American theatre-goers all they could ask for, and then some, in the past few weeks since the film’s release. The intensity, petulant tumult and gritty tone are world class throughout and will come as a surprise for many – like myself – who were curious of the film’s intentions.
Now, some of you may know that the 2006 Scorsese masterpiece, ‘The Departed’, was unofficially based on the story of Whitey Bulger. Let me tell you this, pound for pound, ‘The Departed’ is indeed better. I mean the stars that film had are unrivalled – peak DiCaprio, the best Wahlberg performance of all time, vintage Nicholson as faux-Bulger, a slick Damon, and then throw in Martin Sheen and Vera Farmiga – it’s just unbeatable as a modern gangster film. Yet, ‘Black Mass’ tells a fuller, more truthful story of the legendary Bulger’s life, and for gangster apologists like me, it’s the icing on the cake to one of the most thrillingly bizarre, devilishly cool, real life gangster stories of all time.
Whitey Bulger was a psychopathic gangster who not only rose to become the boss of the notorious Boston Irish Mob crew, known as the Winter Hill Gang, but Bulger was credited with “bringing dope to South Boston”, running a massive racketeering ring, extorting numerous public officials, laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars, and committing a whopping 19 murders. Basically, the guy was nuts! Oh, and a little fun fact for you, Bulger’s own brother was President of the Massachusetts State Senate for 18 years while Whitey’s shenanigans were going on. Talk about a family dynamic! The wildest thing about him was none of those feats, but the fact that he evaded being found by the U.S. government for 16 years, before his capture in 20-freaking-11! He was on the lam as America’s #2 most wanted person for a decade and a half before the Feds even sniffed his trail, after vanishing in the night in 1995. So, you can probably see why a movie about him would be a feature to behold.
Johnny Depp, who stars as Bulger, has played numerous zany roles in the past few years, such as Tonto, Mortdecai, and The Mad Hatter, in an attempt to catch us critics sleeping on his greatness. Nonetheless he returns in ‘Black Mass’ to remind everyone of how damn magnificent he can be on the screen in a serious, forceful role. Between playing John Dillinger in ‘Public Enemies’ and Whitey Bulger in ‘Black Mass’, he’s a John Gotti flick away from an American gangster trifecta. In support, Benedict Cumberbatch and the rising Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) deliver subtle yet stout performances as Bulger’s brother, and FBI confidant respectively. Add in bit roles by three actors I really like, Jesse Plemons, David Harbour, and Adam Scott (yes, that Adam Scott), and what you’ve got is a terrific cast.
You’re going to love ‘Black Mass.’ Director Scott Cooper, who also made 2009 hit ‘Crazy Heart’ and dark, indie picture ‘Out Of The Furnace’, delivers another gorgeously thrilling and vivid film. If you’re familiar with Cooper’s style, he hardly wavers from it, and the dramatic atmosphere is brilliant and relentless throughout. If you like outrageous, real life stories brought to the silver screen, or adulate gangster flicks as much as I do, then ‘Black Mass’ is a must see. Plus, Johnny Depp is back to doing awesome movies, which is always a pleasure to watch. Although, ladies – he’s not exactly looking like ‘sexiest man alive’ material this time around.
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton