James “Whitey” Bulger. Brother of a U.S. senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and infamous criminal from the South Side of Boston, on the FBI’s most wanted list for many years. Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill wrote a novel which is the basis of Scott Cooper’s Black Mass.
Set in the mid 1970’s, Mass focuses on the alliance between FBI agent John Connoley (Joel Edgerton) and Whitey (Johnny Depp) to eliminate the competition. Growing up as Southie kids, Connoley and the Bulger brothers forge a bond that cannot be broken. Unfortunately, Whitey has other designs for the alliance, ultimately bringing everyone down.
Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth’s screenplay, based on Lehr and O’Neill’s novel is very character-driven and detailed, framing Whitey as both a family man and a very dangerous, cunning criminal. Depp’s portrayal of Whitey is absolutely amazing. Even in the most tender of moments, his character is cool and calculating. Edgerton is strong as Connoley, balancing his straight-laced agent against Depp’s character. As Senator Billy Bulger, Benedict Cumberbatch is also very strong. However, the character is reduced to a strong supporting role. Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, and Julianne Nicholson round out a dynamic cast. None are overshadowed by Depp or Edgerton.
While the characters are very strong, the story is weighed down by some of the detail. Oscar-nominated editor David Rosenbloom manages the pace effectively, allowing the actors to shine while Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography really captures the grittiness of Boston. The effects team really brought the period-Boston to life, without making the computer generated effects obvious. A real highlight of the movie is the score by Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL), adding a nuanced layer to the fabric of the movie, while several popular songs from the period support the film effectively.
Mass‘s story is so full of details that it cannot surmount other movies in the genre like The Departed or Goodfellas; movies with strong stories and solid characters. Strong characterizations and Depp’s performance make Black Mass recommended.