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Movie review: Depp strong as Bulger in ‘Black Mass’ 

– For a long time, gangster films have been a staple of American cinema. More than 40 years after its release, “The Godfather” continues to be among the most popular movies of all time. “Goodfellas,” the Martin Scorsese classic, is in its 25th year and still going strong, so it makes sense that these type of films continue to roll out each year.

The latest in a long line of gangster stories is “Black Mass,” which opened on Friday. The film follows the real story and events of the life of James “Whitey” Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang. With the help of a deal made with the FBI, Bulger was able to build an empire and remain on the run for years.

Matthew Fox Movie Reviews

Movie Review by Matthew Fox

The film closely follows the events of his story, including his deal with the FBI and the years spent building his empire.

The film begins in 1975 as Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) is running the Winter Hill Gang in South Boston. At the same time, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) is brought into the anti-crime unit to help root out organized crime in Boston. Connolly grew up in South Boston alongside Whitey and his brother, Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch). Connolly used his connection to forge a partnership with Whitey. Whitey would provide information about rival gangs, and the FBI would look the other way as he conducted his business.

With the FBI clearing out the competition, Whitey builds his empire in South Boston. Meanwhile Connolly climbs the ladder at the FBI, while looking the other way as Whitey runs roughshod over the city. Soon, a new prosecutor, (Corey Stoll) shines a light on the corruption within the bureau, which leads to Connolly’s arrest and Whitey going on the run.

Depp has played a lot of iconic parts. He began with Edward Scissorhands and more recently as Capt. Jack Sparrow. He’s also played famous criminals before — having taken on the role of John Dillinger in “Public Enemies,” but as Whitey Bulger, Depp gives a different kind of performance. Depp sinks into the role and offers a unique and powerful performance. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen from him before. He disappears into the role — thanks in part to the look he’s given — and is the best thing in the film.

That isn’t to say the rest of the film is bad, it’s just not as engrossing or compelling as you might hope. There is a good supporting cast — including Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Julianne Nicholson, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, and Jesse Plemmons, in addition to Cumberbatch, Edgerton and Stoll. All do a fine job in their roles, helping to bring this true-life story to the screen.

Director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace”) works to get the most out of his performers, but the problem is the film feels a little dull and oddly constructed. The original cut of this film was purportedly three hours, while the final cut comes in at just 122 minutes. That means nearly an hour was cut out, and you have to wonder if some of that was key to developing the story, which feels sprawling and disjointed in the final cut.

I loved Depp’s performance, but I just thought the movie was okay. In order to make your mark in the genre you have to create something original and compelling. That doesn’t happen with “Black Mass.”

“Black Mass” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use. Enter with caution.

Two stars out of four.

Check out more movie reviews from Matt Fox here.


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About the author: Columnist Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox is a graduate of Biola University's Radio, Television, and Film program. He is an avid film and TV fan, and writes about both on his blog, each week. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife, Lindsay, where he follows the second love of his life, the Denver Broncos.