Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Black Mass | Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Peter Saarsgard, Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Black Mass | Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Peter Saarsgard, Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown | Review

Get used to the term “Southie”; you’re going to hear it - a lot.
That’s because this fact-based story is set in South Boston, former stomping ground of the notorious crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) from middle age (he had already been imprisoned in Leavenworth and Alcatraz, among others) to his eventual arrest in 2011 at the age of 82.
The title refers to the unholy alliance between Bulger and the FBI, a dubious partnership proposed by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) an agent and childhood friend of Bulger and his younger brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) a Massachusetts state senator.  Connolly successfully pitches the risky relationship to his reluctant boss, special agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) after securing a promise from Bulger that he, the violent head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, won’t kill anyone while his cooperation with the FBI is in place.  Yeah, right.
Bulger became an informant (he hated that word) for the FBI against the Italian mob in northern Boston in return for a brazenly exploited immunity from prosecution.  Murder, extortion, and federal racketeering were just a few of Bulger’s specialties, along with smuggling arms to the Irish Republican Army.  He left some of the killing to his henchman when he wasn’t busy being “hands on.”  Women were not immune from his wrath.
Told in flashback form by former Bulger associate Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons) and others, the film chronicles the progression of Bulger’s power and prominence in Boston’s underworld, sacrificing lives, careers, relationships, and reputations along the way.  
Depp portrays the aging gangster with a creepy, soft-spoken stealth, a very pronounced Southie accent, a noticeably dying tooth and a receding hairline, slicked back into a steely gray skull-cap.  We never find out how he got his nickname, only that he disliked being called “Whitey” under threat of imminent bodily harm.  Slick and sinister, Depp virtually disappears into the character, aided by a Members Only jacket and milky-blue contacts, sometimes covered with aviator shades.
The performance is mesmerizing, a testament to Depp’s skill at portraying a most unlikely polar opposite of what we have come to expect from him.  And that is a very good thing indeed.
Edgerton’s Connolly is at once cocky and bewildered, compromising his principles, his marriage, and his livelihood in order to court the venomous Bulger for tips that were dubious at best. Edgerton’s conflicted portrayal garners sympathy despite the persistent cloud of his character’s flawed judgment.
Cumberbatch’s “respectable” Senator William “Billy” Bulger is a major contrast to his black sheep brother while turning a blind eye to his crimes, a role in which Cumberbatch excels.  Jesse Plemons embodies the look of a thug with a ferocious countenance and a demeanor to match.
Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown, Peter Sarsgaard, Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson co-star as characters affected directly and indirectly by Bulger’s brutal universe.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) focuses on both Bulger and the conflicted, compromised Connolly in this adaptation (from Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob) by screenwriters Mark Mallouk (A Walk Among the Tombstones) and Jez Butterworth (Live.Die.Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow).
This is Depp’s film, and he owns it the way Bulger owned Boston’s south side.
Just don’t call him Tonto, or Willie Wonka, or Captain Jack, or Mortdecai.  And never, ever, call him Whitey.