Reason for the Rating: Brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use.
Plot Summary: Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger turns FBI informant in order to bring down his rival, the Italian mob.
PopFam Recommends: Interesting story, but graphically violent—not a great choice for children under 17.
Johnny Depp has played some weird and creepy characters over the years. Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, and Ichabod Crane, just to name a very few. But Depp's weird and creepy are nothing compared to his sinister and psychotic portrayal of Jimmy Bulger.
If you're not all that familiar with Jimmy Bulger, he ran a gang in South Boston from the early 1970's to 1995, called the Winter Hill Gang. They were a tough bunch who ruled the area and defended it vigorously against the Italian mob in North Boston. According to the movie, somewhere around 1978, FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood friend of Bulger's, presents the idea of an "alliance" between the FBI and Bulger, in an effort to bring down the Italian mob. And why wouldn't Bulger go for it? Bring down his enemy and ensure his own illegal dealings aren't prosecuted? Its a winning situation.
This is the unholy marriage that allows Bulger's unlawful behavior to flourish. When his main henchman, John Martorano (W. Earl Brown) kills businessman John Callahan, the murder makes national headlines. But the FBI looks the other way. When drugs begin appearing in South Boston, the police don't pursue Bulger, even though it's common knowledge that he's the one distributing them. Money buys power and protection. Even his brother, Massachusetts State Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), pretends to be unaware of his brother's doings. A true testament to "ignorance is bliss."
Not everyone is thrilled with his endeavors, though. His wife, Lindsey (Dakota Johnson), is clearly bothered when he tells their young son, "It's not what you do, it's when and where you do it, and who you do it to or with. If nobody sees it, it didn't happen." Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), a member of the gang, realizes the depths of Bulger's madness when Flemmi's step-daughter is arrested, and Bulger subsequently kills her.
This is a story that could be horrific in it's telling, and director Scott Cooper makes this story tolerable. It's a reprehensible thing for a man to take another's life. To live a life degrading others, bullying them into submission, and using violence to gain power. Scott Cooper tells this story in a way that allows the audience to feel the tension of simply being in Bulger's presence, and see some of what he was capable of, but not live it for two full hours. For that I am thankful. Additionally, the acting is stellar. Not only is Johnny Depp fully believable in his disturbing and menacing portrayal of Bulger, but there isn't one weak link in the chain of characters it took to tell this story.
Black Mass certainly deserves the R rating it received, and is not appropriate for young children. There are f-bombs flung frequently throughout the movie, the violence is strong, and Johnny Depp is just creepy.
On a side note, according to the costume designers, Jimmy Bulger and his cohorts' clothing never left the 70's, nor did they age. The movie is set between 1978 and 1995. No one gets wrinkles, gains weight, goes grey, or changes their hairstyle. It was the one thing that bothered me, but, hey, that could be just my weird observation.
Let’s Talk About It
Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this movie:
• Whitey Bulger tells his son, "It's not what you do, it's when and where you do it, and who you do it to or with. If nobody sees it, it didn't happen." What messages do you teach your children by your words or actions?
• John Connolly is loyal to a fault. To what or whom are you loyal? Explain.
• When one of Bulger's trusted companions tells him, "I had no choice" for ratting him out, Bulger replies, "You always have a choice. You just made the wrong one." When making difficult decisions, how important is it for you to consider what God might think of your choice? Explain.
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