Black Mass

Critics 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.



Reviews Counted: 273

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Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
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Average Rating: 3.6/5

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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 Bros

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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 Fitzpatrick
Brad Carter
as John McIntyre
David Harbour
as John Morris
Jeremy Strong
as Josh Bond (uncredited)
W. Earl Brown
as John Martorano
Corey Stoll
as Fred Wyshak
Kevin Bacon
as FBI Agent Charles McGuire
Peter Sarsgaard
as Brian Halloran
Bill Camp
as John Callahan
Juno Temple
as Deborah Hussey
Mark Mahoney
as Mickey Maloney
Scott Anderson
as Tommy King
Lonnie Farmer
as DEA Agent Eric Olsen (Interrogator)
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 Official
Robert Walsh
as Voice of Sr. FBI Official
Billy Meleady
as Joe Cahill
Jamie Donnelly
as Mrs. Cody
David DeBeck
as Roger Wheeler
David Conley (V)
as Officer Flynn
Ciaran Crawford
as Irish Nationalist
Thomas Philip O'Neill
as FBI Wire Tech
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 Chairman
Danny DeMiller
as Porthole Bartender
Michael F. Murphy
as Porthole Customer
Alexander Cook
as DEA Agent Dan Doherty
Ava Cooper
as Little Mary Bulger
Stella Cooper
as Kathleen Bulger
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News & Interviews for Black Mass

Critic Reviews for Black Mass

All Critics (273) | Top Critics (47)

  • Black Mass... can't figure Whitey out. Developments that seem important come and go without their mark on the man being clear.

    Nov 10, 2015
  • [Depp] is evidently having a fine time - and if his aim is to make our flesh creep, from his perspective at least Black Mass must be reckoned a success.

    Oct 7, 2015 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • How much longer must we subscribe, as moviegoers, to the sentimental brotherhood of violence?

    Sep 21, 2015 | Full Review…
  • The role is Depp's best in many years, and a welcome respite from the parade of prancing pseudo-villains-Mortdecai, the Wolf, Barnabas Collins, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka-to which he has devoted far too much of his career.

    Sep 19, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Depp's performance as Bulger is as strong, and as energized, as anything he's done on screen for years.

    Sep 18, 2015 | Full Review…

    Dana Stevens

    Top Critic
  • It's as if the spirit of a psychopath like Bulger resists the camera. Or maybe the movie isn't imaginative enough to penetrate his shell.

    Sep 18, 2015 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Black Mass

Johnny Depp's chilling and transforming performances is the highlight of this gritty, true-to-life adaptation of an American crime story. Black Mass' star-heavy cast (including Edgerton, Cumberbatch) and its calculating direction helps emphasize the brutality and impact of this notorious gangster. 4/5

Eugene Bernabe
Eugene Bernabe

Super Reviewer


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.

Chris Garman
Chris Garman

Super Reviewer


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.

Alice Shen
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 Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

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