Arguably the best gangster film of the year, this tells the true story of the charismatic career criminal Whitey Bulger, whose deal with the FBI allowed him to wipe out the Italian Mafia who were his rivals and competitors in the organised crime of 70’s South Boston.
It’s wonderful to see Johnny Depp return to form as a serious and impressive actor, who inhabits the skin of Bulger fearsomely, and hopefully this will not be the last time we see him back in serious dramatic roles. It’s because of this central performance that the film is so strong, so believable.
Because what is unbelievable is that this is a true story. The FBI knew what Whitey Bulger was, but due to Agent Conolly (Edgerton), who grew up with the gangster and his brother, a state senator, it was covered up. It’s clear that although Bulger was giving the FBI enough information when he wanted to, he was also getting information through his unholy partnership with Conolly. It’s a scary thought, but makes for a fast and fascinating story.
What’s also fascinating is how human Bulger is. He’s not a cartoon bad guy. He has feelings and depth. OK, what he does with those feelings is often illegal and murderous, but he’s also a man who cares about his family, his child and his community. He’s well drawn, and you can see how someone like Conolly could be pulled in by the local legend, and kept in by money and reflected prestige.
Although the casting and performance of Depp is what anchors this film, the ensemble cast are all brilliant, from Conolly’s arrogance and hero worship, to cold, calculating brother and senator Billy (Cumberbatch). Each person has a part to play in how things play out, and the lines between good and evil start to feel quite blurred over the course of this film. It’s what makes it so powerful and compelling. It’s violent, cruel, immoral, incredible and true. I loved this film, and I think you will too.
EXTRAS: For those of you interested in the story behind the film, you'll find it all right here, with extras that should keep you happy. Where the movie ends, the manhunt begins! An hour-long documentary about hoew law enforcement finally caught up with Bulger. For those of you blown away by Depps performance, Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger (12.5 mins), is all about how Depp got into character, from research to costume and prosthetic. Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime (23 mins) is interviews with cast about the story, the film and the truth behind it all.