James “Whitey” Bulger. Ruthless gangster. Informant killer. FBI informant. Yes, that’s right: under FBI agent John Connolly, Jim Bulger brought down his arch Bostonian rivals, killed several informants, and made millions in illegal money, all while protected under the FBI.
Black Mass is a crime drama depicting Bulger, his congressman brother, and his FBI handler; though the most compelling story arch in the film is the downfall of Connolly. From a bullied Southie kid to an FBI agent with ambition, Connolly concocted a plan to work with Bulger and bring down the Italian mob. Connolly executed this plan to perfection, before becoming infected by Bulger’s lifestyle and ultimately ending up in prison.
Johnny Depp gives a harrowing, disturbing, and perfect performance as Bulger. From his look to his accent, and from his actions to his purposeful inactions, this is an Oscar-worthy performance. Similarly, Joel Edgerton’s performance as John Connolly is brilliant. Across the board, Benedict Cumberbatch as the political Bulger brother, Jesse Plemons as Bulger’s right hand man Kevin Weeks, Kevin Bacon as the FBI Special Agent in Charge, and an ensemble supporting cast truly shine in Black Mass.
Scott Cooper, the film’s director, clearly had a vision for this film: a vision of Southie (South Boston), of painting a realistic, dark character study over the course of 20 years (1975-1995), and of crafting a narrative, in two hours, that has stuck with me as a viewer days after seeing the film. Clearly, Cooper’s execution of this vision was spot-on, and he’s certainly put himself on the map as a director approaching Scorcese-esque levels of talent.
The film does, however, falter on one topic: its depiction of women. The film’s female characters are few and far between, and are all poorly written tropes. While it is important to note that not all tropes are bad, the film does a poor job of making its female characters actually mean something. A murdered prostitute and two unhappy wives are the film’s only female characters, and none have any real depth.
Black Mass is the closest thing to The Departed, and comes highly recommended. Through harrowing performances, a grim character study and clear, driven direction, this is not a film to miss. Catch Black Mass in theaters now.