The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
Black Mass is a horribly watchable gangster picture taken from an extraordinary true story and conceived on familiar generic lines. It's the portrait of both men's worlds - in some ways diametrically opposed, in others oddly similar. Each has his own crew. Portraying these men Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton both give richly absorbing performances. In fact, after too many Caribbean holidays, Johnny Depp finally gets back down to some serious business. His mesmerising performance is a return to form for the star after a series of critical and commercial misfires. He is the chief selling point of this film. With his nearly bald head, weird icy blue eyes and deep voice like Ray Liota in Goodfellas; he perfectly embodies a fully accredited sociopath. Less is more. Depp more than rises to the occasion, doing career-best work as a man who emerges as complex and an undeniably charismatic figure.
The viewers also experience an oddly tender side of Bulger himself: a devoted son to his mother, a loving sibling to his state-senator brother - Billy (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch, as per usual) - and a protective father who even indoctrinates his young son in the ways of the streets. Plus, Whitey and Connolly - played with equally impressive skills by Joel Edgerton - share a sentimental sens of Irish neighbourhood loyalty and tribal paranoia. Moreover, Joel Edgerton is superb at showing how his ambitious character is seduced by the decadent gangster lifestyle, his professional ethic muddied by the clan loyalty and street justice that, in some corners of Boston are more sacred than the Constitution.
The script introduces some satisfying nasty twists, turns and shocks. Director Scott Cooper and his screenwriters have something substantial to add to the genre: making the point that gangsters do not arise from nowhere like comic-strip villains. They are the symptoms of political corruptions, parasites created by agencies of the state and by weak, accepting law enforcement officials who are content to sub-contract policing to the bad guys. Lastly, the violence in Black Mass, when it comes, is swift and brutal but nothing here is more startling than a single sudden lock at Bulger eyes across the room. This film isn't just taking place in the late 70's and early 80's, but seems to have been made then also.
Overall Black Mass is a pessimistic tale about how gangsters are nurtured by corruption. This film is both directed and acted with tremendous confidence.