“Black Mass” movie review: the return of Depp

Max Bickley – General Assignment Reporter

Growing up in Boston, especially in Southie (South Boston) there is always one point in your life where you will hear about James “Whitey” Bulger. People speak of his legend like a boogeyman and demon, and of the history of violence and crime he created during his time in Boston. Recently released in theaters is director Scott Cooper’s latest film: “Black Mass,” which details the life of crime lead by Whitey Bulger starring Johnny Depp as Bulger himself.

The movie begins with a focus on a tape being put into a recorder and the first lines being said, “I’m not a rat.” It is here we see that the story of the movie, the infamous rise of Whitey Bulger as exposed by his former Winter Hill Gang members. The testimonies of three of his former partners in crime detail the intense and thrilling story of a small time gangster in the South End of Boston into one of the most dangerous crime lords of the time. It is also a story of how the FBI used Bulger to take down the Mafia in the North End, and in ways were complacent to his criminal activity.

While the plot is not too complex or difficult to follow, it has a star-studded cast that gives a top performance in this grim tale. Notable names in the cast are Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, and Adam Scott. All of the actors do a great job in the movie, but there are also some unfamiliar faces mixed in with the cast. However, there are points when the classic Boston accent seems almost forced and halfway done. The star performance comes from Depp’s portrayal of Bulger, despite recently performing in several films that debuted poorly at the box office.

This movie is a massive comeback and is one of the more serious roles for Depp in recent memory. In the stories and history of Bulger, there is never a solid concept of what he was like, only what he did. What Depp does best is show how insane and volatile of a man Bulger was, whereby he would suddenly go from a smiling face to a look of disgust and then fury as he beats someone into a bloody mess on the ground. There were moments in the movie where it seemed a switch would be flipped, and Depp would go from placid and calm to utterly terrifying.

The production value of the movie is worth a solid mention. The most impressive thing about the production was the use of music. The actual soundtrack of the film has very little of the music from the time period in which the film takes place (1970s-1990s) and relied more on eerie and grim orchestral pieces, amplifying the already grim tone of the movie. However, the best use of sound in the film is when there is none. At points there is be no music, and the only sound is environmental.

The actual filming does a great job of transitioning between decades. It moves seamlessly from the 70s, to the 80s and 90s, accurately depicting each era noted by clothing styles and cars. With that said, there are swooping shots of Boston which do take away from the movie, as it’s easy to tell it is the modern city that you are seeing.

“Black Mass” is truly a grim and bloody tale of one of the most dangerous men in Boston’s history. There are points where the film is exhilarating and frightening, but it also has its funny moments.

Photo Credit: GabboT


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