To provide some context and a little overview without spoiling anything, the movie centers around real-life criminal James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), showcasing his rise from small time criminal activity to controlling the entirety of a criminal enterprise in Boston, and the complicity of the FBI which enabled Bulger to knock out every other player in the Boston underworld. It also details Bulger's personal relationships with his brother, politician and state senator Billy Bulger (Cumberbatch), as well as childhood friend and FBI agent John Connolly (Edgerton). The framing device for the narrative is set in the form of less corrupt FBI agents interviewing Bulger's main associates, trying to piece together a case on Bulger.
Naturally, it'd be hard to have a compelling gangster movie that is free of violence, drugs, and generally awful things, but that isn't the reason why watching this film made me terribly uneasy. The Godfather wouldn't be the same without cuts of people being whacked, or the classic horse head in the bed. Pick a Scorsese movie, almost any single one, and I'd be fine with the body count and debauchery. It all amounts to fiction in the end, none of it actually happened. That is what I found to be most unsettling about watching Black Mass. After about halfway through the movie, I began to fear for everyone Bulger came into contact with, the knowledge that although exaggerated, these people met very brutal, very real ends at the hands of this man was sitting at the forefront of my mind.
After more than a decade of watching Johnny Depp play ridiculous, manic characters, I found myself almost forgetting who I was watching him play a quiet, intense, and utterly ruthless man, pulling the strings of everyone around him. His performance was compelling, equal parts charming charisma and horrific pragmatism. A man who bent whomever he wished to his will, did as he pleased without care for consequence, and did it all in a quiet way. There was never any grandstanding, or thoughtlessness. Here was a cold, calculating man who knew exactly what he wanted and exactly how to get it.
As a side, the movie also made for an interesting period piece, with faithful sets and fashion. Cars were boxy, lapels and shirt collars were ridiculously large, and the kitchens of every house shown were wallpapered horrifically bright colors. Even the accents were more or less spot on, and I am referencing Cumberbatch's accent in particular. The Boston accent is a hard one to bring home, but never at any point in the film did I feel like it was being overdone by any of the cast.
I like gangster movies, I really do, and Black Mass is no exception. But I feel like this one is going to stick with me for some time. Is it award-worthy? I am not quite sure, but it's certainly watchable. If you're looking for a good crime movie, this one certainly won't lead you astray. In short, it's a fantastic film with a great cast and good acting, and if you're on the fence about going, please go see it for yourself!