Black Mass (2015) - Rotten Tomatoes

Black Mass (2015)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Black Mass spins a gripping yarn out of its fact-based story -- and leaves audiences with one of Johnny Depp's most compelling performances in years.

Movie Info

In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history. -- (C) Warner Brosmore
Rating: R (for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 22, 2015
Runtime:
Warner Bros Pictures - Official Site

Cast

Johnny Depp
as Whitey Bulger
Benedict Cumberbatch
as William Bulger
Joel Edgerton
as John Connolly
Jesse Plemons
as Kevin Weeks
Dakota Johnson
as Lindsey Cyr
Rory Cochrane
as Stephen Flemmi
Julianne Nicholson
as Marianne Connolly
Adam Scott
as FBI Agent Robert Fit...
Brad Carter
as John McIntyre
David Harbour
as John Morris
Jeremy Strong
as Josh Bond (uncredite...
W. Earl Brown
as John Martorano
Corey Stoll
as Fred Wyshak
Kevin Bacon
as FBI Agent Charles Mc...
Peter Sarsgaard
as Brian Halloran
Bill Camp
as John Callahan
Juno Temple
as Deborah Hussey
Mark Mahoney
as Mickey Maloney
Lonnie Farmer
as DEA Agent Eric Olsen...
Mary Klug
as Mom Bulger
Erica McDermott
as Mary Bulger
Luke Ryan
as Douglas Cyr
Owen Burke
as Buddy Leonard
Lewis Wheeler
as Jeremiah O'Sullivan
Robert Walsh
as Voice of Sr. FBI Off...
Billy Meleady
as Joe Cahill
Robert Walsh
as Voice of Sr. FBI Off...
Jamie Donnelly
as Mrs. Cody
David DeBeck
as Roger Wheeler
David Conley (V)
as Officer Flynn
Ciaran Crawford
as Irish Nationalist
Joey Vacchio
as Joey, Big Italian
Bill Haims
as Gennaro Angiulo
Anthony Molinari
as Charlie McTiernan
Todd Ryan Jones
as Charlie's Friend
Declan Mulvey
as Charlie's Friend
Bates Wilder
as Agent James
Marc Carver
as Dick Lehr
Richard Donelly
as Gerard O'Neill
Gary Galone
as State Captain
Peter J. Morse
as FBI Agent
Tom Kemp
as Father Mackey
Patrick M. Walsh, Jr...
as Michael Donahue
Naheem Garcia
as DEA Agent
Stephen Curran
as Drug Dealer
Jack Neary
as Barman
Jimmy Joe Maher
as Boot Shop Owner
Forry Buckingham
as World Jai Alai Chair...
Danny DeMiller
as Porthole Bartender
Michael F. Murphy
as Porthole Customer
Alexander Cook
as DEA Agent Dan Dohert...
Ava Cooper
as Little Mary Bulger
Stella Cooper
as Kathleen Bulger
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Black Mass

Critic Reviews for Black Mass

All Critics (243) | Top Critics (42)

A a well-crafted, well-acted, and competently executed movie that you've seen many, many times before.

Full Review… | May 3, 2016
Flavorwire

Black Mass isn't quite in the same league as The Departed (also inspired by Bulger) or Eastern Promises; but this smart, well-acted and entertaining film beats to its own drum and is an intriguing addition to the genre.

Full Review… | May 3, 2016
New Zealand Herald

Slavishly hitting Scorsesean music cues, Black Mass lacks the title's implied mystique.

Full Review… | April 20, 2016
Brooklyn Magazine

A mélange of undercooked characters with nothing to say and nowhere to go.

Full Review… | April 9, 2016
Cinemixtape

Violent, uncompromising and superbly executed, this is visceral filmmaking of the highest order.

Full Review… | April 6, 2016
South China Morning Post

Luckily, though, Depp's performance is brilliant and essentially the only thing about the film that could be called 'great'.

Full Review… | April 5, 2016

Audience Reviews for Black Mass

½

Black Mass is Scott Cooper's bio-pic about the legendary Boston gangster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his reign as the most feared man in Boston. Bulger takes an unconventional route to the top by not only being the brother to State Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), but he is also an informant for F.B.I. agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The film follows the two decades of Bulger using his law enforcement contacts to protect himself and his business. Whitey may have been a rough and tough guy, but he was far more intelligent than he is given credit for.



Depp plays Bulger with a kind of resolve and immersion that we haven't seen from the actor in a long time. To rob Breaking Bad, he becomes the danger. People fear him and he knows it with Depp playing the role perfectly. It also turns out that this story also belongs to Edgerton's character, who feels the link to South Boston, but unwittingly falls into the corruption of the Bulger organization without even himself realizing it. The film is not so much a cat and mouse film as it's seeing what Bulger can get away with next, and he gets away with quite a bit. Most of the performances in the film are spot on and give the film a richness it needs.



The issues that come with this film are in the presentation of the story. For a quarter of a century people have tried to reinvent the vibe from Goodfellas (even Martin Scorsese is a known offender). Black Mass is no different and it pulls you from the story because it feels like the director is trying too hard to recapture past gangster film triumphs. There's a reason why we never see films attempt to repeat The Godfather's karma- many have failed and are lost to our memories. Black mass may go beyond going down the drain of films forgotten, but it still feels forced. Add to that the connections between this film and Scorsese's The Departed and you add to the issue.



A word of warning when watching this film. If you have seen The Departed you will be reminded of bits and pieces from that film. Of course The Departed is a re-make of the Asian film Infernal Affairs and the broad premise of the film is based on Bulger's life, which doesn't help in the matter. It will take the first forty minutes of the film to go by before you stop comparing it to The Departed, taking away from the experience I'm afraid. Overall the film is a well acted piece that really tries too hard to be a classic gangster film. This will probably be a forgotten piece in five years time, reminding you of its existence on late night television. This is really a shame because Depp's performance is one of his best in recent memory and shouldn't be thrown away and forgotten. A well acted film that fails to really capture the audience because none of the characters are very sympathetic. A missed opportunity.

sononothing
Chris Garman

Super Reviewer

½

Perhaps it's a far greater travesty that Johnny Depp, at age 52 and three Oscar nominations, has never won one and that those nominations were more awarded for pop novelty (Sweeney Todd and Jack Sparrow) than actorly craft (the not nominated Gilbert Grape and Ed Wood). As infamous mobster Whitey Bulger, Depp is appropriately terrifying, though the story is convoluted and episodic to the point that I don't know if the role was truly nuanced or challenging.

For the longest time, I thought Jesse Plemons was Matt Damon in plaster makeup. Juno Temple is pretty dang good in the third degree scene. Her fear is so tiny yet fierce.

aliceinpunderland
Alice Shen

Super Reviewer

For decades, James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) was the most feared man in Boston. After being released from Alcatraz, he returned home to his Massachusetts roots and consolidated power with an iorn grip. He and his cronies ruled Boston's criminal underworld and were given protection from none other than the FBI. Thanks to agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood pal of Bulger's, his crimes were given an implicit blessing (as long as he didn't go too far) as he served as an FBI informant. In reality he was just ratting out his competition and abusing his power. This charade lasted for decades until Bulger went on the run, not being caught until 2011.

Black Mass really suffers from its two core characters, Bulger and Connolly, who are just not that interesting, which is a great surprise for a true-story about corruption and murder. Crime drama have an allure to them and this is accentuated by their colorful and usually larger-than-life figures that we watch commit all those terrible yet cinematic acts of vicious violence. Being the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's crime lord in The Departed, you'd assume that the real-life Bulger would have a menace and personality that fills up the big screen, leaving you asking for more. Shockingly, he doesn't. He's a mean guy and he has his moments of severe intimidation, but he's also practically a 1990s action movie villain with a sneer and one-dimensional sense of posturing. He doesn't come across as a character but more as a boogeyman. We see him help some old ladies in the neighborhood, but you never get a sense he has any care or loyalty for his old stomping grounds, especially as he pumps drugs into the impoverished community. We don't get any sense about how his mind works or what motivates Bulger beyond unchecked greed. We don't get a sense of any discernable personality. We don't have any scene that feels tailored toward the character (even though I assume many are based on true events); instead, Bulger feels unmoored and generally unimportant to Black Mass because he could be replaced by any standard movie tough guy. How in the world has a movie about notorious criminal Whitey Bulger found a way to make him this boring?

Then there are the underdeveloped supporting characters of Connolly and Bulger's brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch). The guy responsible for Bulger's misdeeds getting the green light should be a far more important person in this story but he's mostly portrayed as a stooge. He wants to look out for Bulger but despite one "you've changed" speech from his beleaguered wife, you don't truly get any sense that Connolly has changed. You don't get a sense of his moral dilemma or even his desperation as new leadership in the FBI starts to see through his poor obfuscations. He's a stooge from the beginning and we feel nothing when his self-serving alliance comes to an unceremonious end. There is even less when it comes to Billy, a character that seems to pretend his brother is a different person. Billy works as a state senator. His political position must have supplied more inherent drama than what they movie affords. Black Mass is doomed when its three central characters are this dull.

Another problem is that the movie makes Bulger too protected for too long to the point it becomes comical. The script follows a routine where an associate of Bulger's knows too much or is going to confess to the police, and within usually the next scene that character is easily dispatched, sometimes in broad daylight and with scores of witnesses. There are several recognizable actors who must have filmed for a weekend. I understand Connolly was protecting his meal ticket here with the Bureau, but Bulger is so brazen that we as an audience need more justification for how Connolly could cover for so long. It feels like Bulger has free reign and that extends into the screenplay as well. Without a stronger sense of opposition, or at least watching Bulger rise through the mob ranks, we're left with a collection of scenes of the status quo being repeatedly reconfirmed.

I've figured out the way to revise Black Mass and make it far more entertaining. As stated above, Bulger is just too much a one-note boogeyman to deserve the screen time he's given, and his onscreen dominance hampers what should be the movie's true focus, Agent Connolly. Here is where the movie's focal point should be because this is the transformation of a person. Bulger is the same from start to finish, only shifting in degrees of power, but it's Connolly who goes on the moral descent. His is the more interesting journey, as he tries to use his childhood connections to get ahead in the FBI, but he consistently has to make compromise after compromise, and after awhile he's gone too deep. Now he has to worry about being caught or being too expendable to Bulger. This character arc, given its proper due, would make for a terrific thriller that's also churning with an intense moral ambiguity of a man trying to justify the choices he has made to stay ahead. It's a more tragic hero sort of focus but one that has far more potential to illuminate the inner anxiety and psychological torment of the human heart rather than constantly going back to Buger to watch him whack another person. It's far more interesting to watch a man sink into the mire he has knowingly constructed, and that's why the narrative needed to shift its focus to Connolly to really succeed.

Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) takes a few steps back from his more eccentric oddballs to portray the unnerving ferocity of Bulger, and he's quite good at playing a human being again, though Bulger strains the definition of human. He underplays several scenes and his eyes burrow into you with such animosity that it might make you shudder. He's a thoroughly convincing cold-blooded killer, though I wonder if part of my praise is grading Depp on a curve since Bulger is so unlike his recent parts. Regardless, Depp is the most enjoyable aspect of Black Mass and a reconfirmation that he can be a peerless actor when he sinks his teeth into a role rather than a series of tics. He also handles the Boston accent far better than his peers. Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and Edgerton (The Gift) are more than capable actors but oh boy do both flounder with their speaking voices. They are greatly miscast as two native Massachusetts sons.

If you're a fan of crime thrillers steeped in true-life details of heinous men (it's typically men) committing heinous acts, even you will likely be underwhelmed or marginally disappointed by Black Mass. There just isn't enough going on here besides a series of bad events that don't feel like they properly escalate, complicate, or alter our characters until the film's very end when the plot requires it. The screenplay has propped up Bulger by his rep, told Depp to crank up his considerable glower, and called it a day. It's a Boston mob story that needed more intensive attention to its characters to survive. Black Mass is a crime story that dissolves into its stock period details and genre trappings, becoming a good-looking but ultimately meaningless window into a hidden world.

Nate's Grade: C+

Nate Z.
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

Black Mass Quotes

Whitey Bulger: What did you marinate this steak in? Because it's out of this world! You're killing me with it!
John McIntyre: Now, now, it's a family secret.
Whitey Bulger: Oh, come on! You got to tell me that! What's the secret? Come on, you can do it, come on. That is one of the best goddamn steaks I have ever had in my life ever. What's the family secret recipe?
John McIntyre: It's ground garlic and a bit of soy.
Whitey Bulger: That's it?
John McIntyre: Yeah, that's it. That's it.
Whitey Bulger: I thought it was a family secret.
John McIntyre: It's a recipe.
Whitey Bulger: No, no, you said to me 'this is a family secret,' and you gave it up to me, boom, just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hmm?
John McIntyre: I was just saying that.
Whitey Bulger: You were just saying? Just saying gets people sent away. Just saying got me a nine-year stretch in Alcatraz, you understand? So, just saying can get you buried real quick... Look at his face!
– Submitted by Libero S (7 months ago)
Lindsey Cyr: Jimmy, he's six. You really think that's the best thing to be telling you kid?
Whitey Bulger: Yeah.
– Submitted by Libero S (7 months ago)
FBI Agent Charles McGuire: Bulger's playing us, making a fool of the bureau.
– Submitted by Libero S (7 months ago)
Lindsey Cyr: Jimmy, he's six. You really think that's the best thing to be telling you kid?
Whitey Bulger: Yeah.
– Submitted by Libero S (7 months ago)

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