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Rated 3.03 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Johnny Depp Becomes Whitey Bulger
by Betty Jo Tucker

Johnny Depp just might earn his first Oscar for his portrayal of Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass. Although Depp played a gangster before in Public Enemies, that Dillinger role didn’t require the complete physical transformation demanded by Whitey. Of course, make-up helps, but the talented actor -- who’s known for paying close attention to details -- also changes his way of walking, standing and talking. He looks and sounds completely different. His half-bald wig, those bad teeth and new eye color are not a pretty sight, but Depp proves again that he can take on any role and make us believe he IS the character he plays. This time that character happens to be nothing short of terrifying. In fact, we watch in horror as he speaks pleasantly to murder victims before killing them – and quite violently.

Murder and crime fill up the screen

in Black Mass, which needs to be seen

to grasp the fact that Depp is great

as a bad man we love to hate.


Whitey Bulger is this guy’s name,

a criminal who knows no shame.

He even cons the FBI

while working with them as a spy.


But charming he can also be

with old ladies and family.

His escapades in Boston crime

made him top dog for a long time.


Too bad this film leaves out so much.

Whitey’s free years it does not touch.

What did he do not to be caught?

Why did searches result in naught?


Still, Johnny Depp fans must see this.

It’s not a movie they should miss.

Whitey became the most infamous criminal in the history of South Boston back in the late 1970s and 80s. He struck a deal with the FBI to be an informant in take down a Mafia family that was in competition with his Irish mob crew, known as the Winter Hill Gang. Whitey gets involved at the request of John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), an FBI agent who is one of his boyhood friends. It’s fascinating to watch Connolly becoming slowly corrupted by his association with Whitey, despite the warnings of his frightened wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson, absolutely terrific in the film’s most harrowing scene).

Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) -- working from Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth’s (The Last Legion) screenplay adaptation of a book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill – wisely includes scenes of Whitey with his family, longtime girlfriend (Dakota Johnson), and cute young son (Luke Ryan) which help us think of him as not a complete monster. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) portrays Whitey’s brother, President of the Massachusetts Senate (!), who tries to avoid any of his sibling’s criminal activities -- and these two fine actors succeed in projecting a convincing brotherly rapport on screen.

Black Mass moves along too slowly at the beginning, and I’m disappointed it didn’t cover what Bulger was up to during the 16 years he was “at large” before being captured. But the film did hold my interest for its over two-hour running time. However, I think Johnny Depp’s riveting performance deserves most of the credit for that.   

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “R” for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use.)

For more information about Black Mass, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.

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