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Movie Review: Scott Cooper's Black Mass (2015)


Black Mass is an action-packed crime drama with a bleak and disturbing tone. It tells the true story of Whitey Bulger, a violent criminal living in South Boston, who was a local criminal until he became an FBI informant. He was the brother of a state senator and the childhood friend of a local rising FBI agent, who talks him into making a deal. As an informant, he gave the FBI leads on local mafia in exchange for his protected status. He was then able to commit crimes on a more national scale and rise to power. Eventually, his deeds caught up to him, but by then, he had escaped and wasn't found until much, much later in life.

The narrative of the film is constructed by showing all of Whitey's former employees sharing their testimonies with the FBI and admitting what they had done under his leadership. We don't know exactly what influenced them to do this, but it is alluded to in their stories. We are left to consider why this or that employee might have decided to testify against Whitey.

The screentime is filled with different acts of violence, very few which were perpetrated by Whitey himself. Whitey hires the muscle and lets them clean up his messes. Whitey is a disciplined, methodical man with excellent grooming skills. I will have to say Johnny Depp owns the character and he's almost unrecognizable as himself. This is an acting job comparable to that of Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems to transform into any character he takes on.

Altogether, this is a suspenseful and violent film with some very twisted characters. An all-star cast takes this challenge on and blows it out of the water. The plot and tone reminded me very much of The Departed (2006), although Black Mass is a less violent film than that. Instead it relies more on the narrative of its different storytellers to bring people into the story. There is more of an emphasis to on the setting of South Boston in Black Mass.

This is a methodical crime drama which will most likely win a nomination for Johnny Depp as best actor.

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