Black Mass is one of those movies that if you didn't know it was based on real life events you'd swear no one could make it up. Johnny Depp stars as James "Whitey" Bulger a real-life Boston crime boss. Depp has received high praise for his chilling performance and there has even been Oscar buzz around it.
Black Mass, based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, tells the story of Bulger’s rise from South Boston thug to crime lord — a move he completed with the help of the FBI in the late 1970s. When the movie opens, Bulger is a small-time crime boss, beloved in his neighborhood, but getting squeezed out by the Italian Mafia that’s taken over the North End. While his brother Bill (Benedict Cumberbatch) remains a powerful leader in the Massachusetts Senate, his childhood friend, an FBI agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), gets the idea to align himself with the man he grew up with: Bulger will become an FBI informant, feeding the Bureau information so they can take down the Mafia, and in return, the FBI will look the other way when it comes to Bulger’s own activities.
It’s a dicey proposition for both the FBI and Bulger, but Connolly talks both sides into it, and soon Bulger finds himself knocking out his competitors and spreading his criminal operation across the country. But with Bulger’s growing power comes increased audacity and recklessness, and it soon becomes clear to Connolly’s higher-ups that Bulger may be more dangerous than the people he helped bring down in the first place.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), takes charge of the story from the get go. Cooper continues to prove himself an actor’s director, with Edgerton’s performance standing out in particular. His John Connolly is a man who can’t come to grips with who he is or even wants to be, putting on airs of false confidence and bravado to convince his wife, bosses, and colleagues of his sincerity and innocence — constantly spinning plates until the Bulger investigation brings everything crashing down.
But even with a fantastic supporting cast this is Depp’s movie, from start to finish. Bulger is onscreen in nearly every scene, and the actor reveals an intensity we haven’t seen from him in a very long time. Welcome back Johnny Depp!!!
I spoke with some of Depp's Black Mass co-stars during the recent Toronto International Film festival to get the low down on what it was like to actor with Johnny in this film.
Black Mass is in now theatres.