Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Some actors have the ability to lose themselves in a character. Some don’t. Among the best is Johnny Depp, who has built a career playing characters as diverse as Gilbert Grape and Jack Sparrow. But as real-life mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, Depp may have found his greatest performance.
“I just want to say one thing for the record,” a former bad guy tells the authorities. “I’m not a rat.” Rats seem to be the one thing no one wants to be, or be around, in South Boston in 1975. Here the streets are run by “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), a man so feared that to cross him almost always means death. With his snake-like eyes that never seem to blink, just a glance sends most people running the other way. But Whitey is also a loving father and all-around good guy to those he knows. When he sees a former teacher of his carrying groceries he stops his car and has his men not only take them home but put them away as well. What a nice guy!
Fast moving and full of great performances, “Black Mass” is a welcome return to the big screen of the Johnny Depp we admired 20 years ago! He is joined by Edgerton, who plays local boy/now grown-up FBI agent John Connolly. Connolly has been tasked by his superiors to clean up South Boston, and he strikes an almost un-holy bond with Whitey. Whitey will provide information on rival gangsters to the Feds while they will turn their back on his activities, providing he doesn’t murder anyone, which is a pretty hard promise for Whitey to keep. Another fly in the ointment is the fact that Bulger’s brother, Billy, is a state senator, which can make for an uncomfortable dinner party.
As things get worse in Southie, Connolly must find ways to show that Whitey is a productive informant. Of course, this leads to big arrests which lead to raises and a bigger office. Soon Connolly is wearing fancy suits and gold watches, which draws the curiosity of his superior (Kevin Bacon, still in Boston-mode from “Mystic River”). As Connolly, Edgerton is amazing. If you include his amazing writing/directing debut with last month’s “The Gift,” this has been one hell of a year for him. But the top draw here is Depp, who loses himself in the character completely.
If you’re not familiar with “Whitey Bulger,” think back to the Oscar winning Best Picture of 2006, “The Departed.” The character Jack Nicholson played was based on accounts of Bulger and while Nicholson played him well, his “Frank Costello” can’t hold a candle to the real thing!