DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

BLACK MASS (director: Scott Cooper; screenwriters: Mark Mallou/Jez Butterworth/based on the book by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill; cinematographers: Masanobu Takayanagi; editor: David Rosenbloom; music:  Tom Holkenborg; cast: Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Johnny Depp (James "Whitey" Bulger), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Kevin Bacon (Charles NcGuire), Peter Sarsgaard (Brian Halloran), Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks), Rory Cochrane (Steve Flemmi), Julianne Nicholson (Marianne Connolly), Mary Klug (Mom Bulger), David Harbour (John Morris), Corey Stoll (Fred Wyshak); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Richard Mirisch; Warner Bros.; 2015)

"An amazing subdued performance in evil by Depp."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Scott Cooper ("Out of the Furnace"/"Crazy Heart") directed real-life story of the notorious South Boston crime kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) is based on the book by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill (They have cameos). They're the Boston Globe reporters who researched the case and whose headline investigative story signaled the end was near for Whitey. Mark Mallou and Jez Butterworth turn in a fine Hollywood script, even if it lacks depth. The well-produced sprawling film, even though limited in scope, is assuredly directed by Cooper, has an amazing subdued performance in evil by Depp (almost unrecognizable in a latex face), entertains stylishly like a 1970s gangster film, and lucidly tells the nasty Bulger crime story. He's Boston's Irish psychopathic gang leader, murderer, extortionist, drug dealer, IRA arms dealer and racketeer. The pic also finely details the unlikable Whitey's inappropriate connection with the FBI. Whitey is used as a snitch by the ambitious FBI agent Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who promises the mobster no interference from the feds if intel against Italian mobsters from the North Side of town is provided. Connolly's a snake who advances his career while ignoring Whitey's long string of violent criminal activity. He's a childhood friend of Whitey's, who under the guise of collecting evidence from Bulger enables him to become the kingpin of crime in Boston.

The unpleasant story accurately traces Whitey's crime spree from 1975 to 1994, when Whitey went on the run and was not caught until 16 years later. We learn about Whitey's rise as the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, his turf wars with the Italian mob, his various illegal enterprises, his assassinations and the double-crosses among the gangsters. In the end credits we learn that Whitey's now behind bars as a lifetime prison guest

Edgerton should annoy the viewer as a slime-ball  lawman. But his performance is right on as the ambitious FBI man who is seduced by his childhood hero gangster pal, as he sells his soul for promotions and material gain. It's also commendable that Edgerton talks like a real Bostonian, with a perfect accent.

Bulger's brother Bill (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a powerful state senator and later is the president of the University of Massachusetts, who served both offices without blemish even while pretending to be unaware of his brother's criminal activity. Dakota Johnson has an undeveloped role as Whitey's girlfriend and the mother of his son. Julianne Nicholson is the concerned wife of John Connolly, unable to reel him in from being a bad cop.

The grim film paints a bleak picture of Boston's crime scene and how amazingly ineffective were the FBI in nabbing Whitey. What it fails to touch on is Whitey's psyche and what makes him tick. It's more interested in giving us a laundry list of his crimes and how a corrupt society enabled such a vicious misfit. The film leaves no hidden messages. What you get on first viewing is all you'll ever get.

REVIEWED ON 9/18/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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