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Black Mass (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 122 minutes.

Not for children.

Last year’s Whitey: U.S. v. James J. Bulger (2014) told the story of Whitey Bulger but mainly concentrated on the corruption of the police and FBI and how they were complicit in his crimes. One never got the true feeling of who Whitey Bulger was.

This movie, with Johnny Depp playing Whitey, tells two stories. It shows the FBI’s corruption in the names of FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton in another compelling performance) and FBI Agent John Morris (David Harbor). But more important it shows what a true psychopath Bulger was, as Depp portrays him as charming when he wants to be but as deadly as a viper with friends and foes alike, delighting in killing people himself with his bare hands.

Extremely well directed by Scott Cooper from a script by Mark Malouk and Jez Butterworth, and based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, this is a captivating tale of evil. Adding to the verisimilitude, the film was shot on location where it occurred, in the Southie neighborhood of Boston. Even the interiors were shot in Boston.

But what carries the movie is the frightening depiction of Bulger by Depp as the cruel, coldblooded killer Bulger was. The scene between Bulger and Connolly’s wife, Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), is as disturbing as any of the scenes in Silence of the Lambs between Anthony Hopkins and Jody Foster. It should live in memory at least as long as the scene in The Public Enemy (1931), when Jimmy Cagney pushed a grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face. This scene is a lot more terrifying. Nicholson deserves an Oscar® nomination for this scene alone. It goes without saying that Depp will be on the front line for the Oscar® for his performance.

While I think that Edgerton should get multiple nominations for his work on The Gift, his performance here is equally Oscar®-quality.

There aren’t any laughs in this film, but this is a film well worth seeing. For those who live on the west side of Los Angeles, it’s also a little disconcerting to realize that this guy was living in a condo hiding in plain sight in Santa Monica for eleven years before he was captured in 2011. We all probably passed him on the street or saw him at Ralphs shopping for ice cream and didn’t realize what we were standing next to.