Johnny Depp stars as James “Whitey” Bulger, a real life South Boston Irish gang leader who became an FBI informant in order to get ahead of his Italian Mafia rivals.
Whitey is approached by his childhood friend, ambitious FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who suggests an alliance. In exchange for information on the Mafia, the FBI will turn a blind eye to Whitey’s activities as long as he doesn’t kill anyone.
At first the agreement works well for both parties. John uses Whitey’s information to sniff out the Mafia headquarters, earning him the respect of his peers and lack of interference from the feds allows Whitey to expand his fledgling empire. It’s not long though before things start to go wrong. Unsurprisingly, Whitey’s interest in sharing information is far less developed than his interest in extending his reach and crushing his opposition irrespective of John’s rules. Soon John is under scrutiny and finding himself deeper and deeper in Whitey’s thrall and Whitey’s psychopathic ambition threatens to destroy them both.
Whitey Bulger’s story is certainly a very interesting one and worth telling but the way it plays out in Black Mass means that Whitey is actually the least interesting character in his own life. A lot of this is down to Johnny Depp’s rather one note performance. There is no question that Whitey is a sociopath with an insatiable lust for violence but there are complexities in his character including his devastation at the loss of his young son and his devotion to his senator brother (played by Benedict Cumberbatch).
Joel Edgerton is suitably slimy as John Connolly but the character I really wanted to know about was Whitey’s right hand man, Stephen Flemmi played by an ever chameleonic Rory Cochrane. Not all of the casting as inspired. Whitey’s girlfriend, Lindsey Cyr is played by Dakota Johnson who is a staggering 36 years younger than him. Although the real life Cyr was younger than Bulger the obviously massive age difference ends up being distracting.
Black Mass is a watchable but forgettable mob movie that never goes past being average despite it’s mostly stellar cast.