Black Mass Review
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After more than 12 years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list—second only to Osama bin Laden—Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was captured in California in 2011, once again making him top headline news. Now, in director Scott Cooper’s heavily-buzzed Bulger biopic, Black Mass, Johnny Depp’s portrayal lands him at the top of this award season’s Most Wanted list.

Black Mass tells the true story of the tough Irish crime boss from South Boston (played by Depp), who rose to power in the ‘70s and ‘80s with some help from an old family friend. In the mid-‘70s, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) was rising through the ranks at the FBI’s Boston office. Tasked with taking down the Mafia, Connolly turned to his old neighbor—and the Italians’ greatest rival—for help. And in building an alliance with South Boston’s most ruthless criminal while eliminating his competition, Connolly made Bulger invincible in the process.

The bulk of the story here is really nothing new. If you’ve seen a good gangster movie (or even a bad one), you’ll be familiar with the kind of brutal violence that Bulger and his associates are responsible for. It’s gut-wrenching stuff—even more gut-wrenching, perhaps, because Bulger himself clearly isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s a blood-thirsty psychopath who’s so confident in his invincibility that he’ll gun people down in broad daylight, knowing that there will be no punishment for his actions.

The involvement of the FBI, then, gives the story an intriguing extra layer, blurring the lines between the good guys and the bad guys in a way that goes beyond the usual payoffs and crooked cops. Though Connolly first approaches Bulger out of both a sense of loyalty toward his old neighborhood and his own lust for power and recognition, the relationship only serves to shield Bulger and his Winter Hill Boys from suffering any consequences for their criminal behavior—and, as a result, it makes them bolder and more powerful.

Even from the very beginning, though, Bulger is a terrifying character. Quietly calculating, he rules the streets of South Boston, demanding loyalty and respect from everyone around him—because the punishment for the slightest hint of insolence is death. He may be kind to little old ladies—and he may be generous when it serves his purposes—but nothing is truly beneath him. It seems that he’s involved in every form of illegal activity—anything that can make him even more powerful. Drugs, money laundering, gambling—he even runs the jai alai scene in Miami.

Depp’s performance, meanwhile, is absolutely chilling, elevating the film beyond the typical mobster movie. With his icy blue eyes, his sinister swagger, and his cold, quiet stare, Depp embodies the character’s pure evil—and each close-up is sure to make your skin crawl. It’s the kind of spellbinding performance that’s sure to haunt your dreams—and win awards, too.

Though many of the story’s elements have been seen before, Black Mass is still intense enough—and gritty enough—to keep audiences captivated from beginning to end. And an unforgettable lead performance from Depp makes it an award-season must-see.

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