James “Whitey” Bulger was one of the most notorious criminals in American history, having been number two on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
His FBI-assisted meteoric rise in the criminal underworld is rigorously detailed in this latest adaptation “Black Mass,” which relies heavily on excellent performances from its cast to cover up its tried-and-true narrative. Saying that about a true story usually doesn’t bode well, but the cast really sells it.
The film tells the story of Bulger (Johnny Depp) through flashbacks during FBI interrogations of his underlings. We learn the story of Bulger from his teaming up with childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to being arrested while on the run in 2011. Director Scott Cooper opts for the slow and methodical approach to crime thriller a la his last film “Out Of The Furnace,” and the interrogation framing device gels well with the pace of the movie. If only the cinematography wasn’t dull. I get the fact that this isn’t exactly a happy story, but the film lacks visual grit to compliment the characters.
That being said, the cast is this movie’s saving grace. Not much else needs to be said for Depp, who looks more alert here than he has since “Dark Shadows,” hiding behind the soulless eyes of a man willing to break his own code of questionable ethics just to come out on top. Edgerton wrings the slime ball charm out of Connolly, while Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s senator brother is a glorious ham of a performance that’s almost upended by a slight dropping of his accent. Sienna Miller was supposed to play Bulger’s girlfriend Catherine Greig, who played a significant role in Bulger’s harbor while on the lam, but was completely cut from the film, along with his young stepsons, so like most biopics, there are facts and events left on the cutting room floor as well.
Even considering the snipped facts/performances and the boilerplate “and then this happened” story structure, Black Mass’ (pardon the pun) killer performances and brief length (rare for crime movies) keep it squarely in the very entertaining bracket.
The film is now playing!