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Running Time:
2 hours, 2 minutes

Rating: R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.

Rating Explanation:
for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
This gripping film based on a fact-based story is highlighted by Johnny Depp's most compelling performance in years.

Additional Info:
Johnny Depp ... James 'Whitey' Bulger
Joel Edgerton ... John Connolly
Benedict Cumberbatch ... Billy Bulger
Dakota Johnson ... Lindsey Cyr
Kevin Bacon ... Charles McGuire
Peter Sarsgaard ... Brian Halloran
Jesse Plemons ... Kevin Weeks
Rory Cochrane ... Steve Flemmi
David Harbour ... John Morris
Adam Scott ... FBI Agent Fitzpatrick
Corey Stoll ... Fred Wyshak
Julianne Nicholson ... Marianne Connolly
W. Earl Brown ... John Martorano
Bill Camp ... John Callahan
Juno Temple ... Deborah Hussey

Black Mass
Based on fact, this is essentially the story of James “Whitey” Bulger, who ran the Winter Hill gang in South Boston for a couple of decades from the 1970s to 1994, when he went on the lam as authorities were closing in (he was arrested in California in 2011). But Bulger’s career is coupled with that of John Connolly, a hotshot FBI agent who’d been a pal of Jimmy and his brother Billy (now an important state senator) in Southie when they were kids, and enlisted the mobster as a “partner” in bringing down the Beantown chapter of the Mafia, convincing his Bureau colleagues to give Bulger a pass on his crimes in return for the information he passed on to them about his rivals. Over the years Connolly became increasingly protective of Bulger and was ultimately convicted of complicity in his nefarious deeds.

This is a complicated story, and it has been elided and simplified considerably, but it doesn’t flinch from portraying Bulger as a brutal man who kills easily, from Tommy (Scott Anderson), a comrade he disposes of near the start merely for a drunken argument and Brian Halloran (Peter Sarsgaard), a hot-tempered hophead who tries to turn him in to the feds (an attempt Connolly foils), to Deborah Hussey (Juno Temple), a loquacious prostitute he snuffs personally, and John McIntyre (Brad Carter), whose loose mouth led to the interception of a shipment of weapons Bulger intended for the IRA—and to McIntyre’s torture and murder.

All of which gives Bulger a complexity that gives Johnny Depp the opportunity finally to act again, giving a performance that’s alternately chilly and fierce, but always compelling. Joel Edgerton, as Connolly, frankly can’t match him; he portrays the FBI agent who’s drawn into Bulger’s web as a big, hearty, ambitious man who plans to be the puppet master and only gradually realizes that he’s the one being used, but it’s a turn that doesn’t match Depp’s in subtlety—especially in the latter stages when Connolly falls apart—and so the back-and-forth between the two never has the resonance it might have. Still, it’s a solid turn, as are Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s circumspect brother and Peter Sarsgaard who is memorable as one as Bulger’s would-be accuser.

Among the large supporting cast, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, and W. Earl Brown stand out as the chief members of Bulger’s crew, whose interviews with law enforcement provide the entree to the flashbacks that reveal Whitey’s past. The women fare less well, with Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson, as Connolly’s increasingly dubious wife, relegated mostly to the background, though Nicholson has an excellent scene when Whitey casually threatens her; and Juno Temple, in what amounts to an extended cameo, makes the naïve hooker a memorable figure of Whitey’s wrath. Connolly is surrounded by a gaggle of other law enforcement types, among whom Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott stand out as skeptical colleagues, as does David Harbour as a more accommodating one who will assist Connolly in protecting Bulger (like Nicholson, he too has a great moment when he cringes beneath Whitey’s withering threats) and Corey Stoll as the prosecutor who refuses to go along with the coddling of Bulger.

Lesser roles have been filled carefully by director Scott Cooper, who achieves an almost palpable sense of time and place (just as he did in “Out of the Furnace”). He manages several set-pieces—like the murder of Temple’s Hussey—with a masterly hand, and his careful management of moments of abrupt violence keeps the audience consistently on the edge of their seats. Tom Holkenberg contributes a moody score that contributes to the dark atmosphere.

Though very good, Black Mass might not be the equal of the greatest gangster pictures. But it has one great element in Johnny Depp's performance, which makes this journey into the world of a vicious crime lord endlessly engrossing and at times positively startling. At least one Oscar nomination seems a foregone conclusion, but others may be in the offing as well.

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