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Black Mass

The FBI makes a smalltime hood a kingpin in this engrossing drama

When James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp: Mortdecai) looks you in the eyes, it’s too late. Cold, calculating and amoral, Bulger leads the Winter Hill Gang.
    Though he’s fierce and feared, Bulger is fairly smalltime. His reputation extends only to the edges of the South Boston neighborhood he rules. The Italian mafia uses superior numbers and muscle to keep Winter Hill in check.
    To make his move, Bulger finds help in the form of John Connolly (Joel Edgerton: The Gift), an FBI agent who grew up in the neighborhood idolizing Bulger and now sees him as opportunity. If he can turn Bulger, he’ll be able to take down the Italians.
    Bulger at first sneers at turning snitch. But as the Italians press, he acquiesces. Now, everything Bulger does is protected under his status as an FBI informant. The feds, in turn, fight his mob war.
    Clear to take over Boston, Bulger sweeps a bloody path through the city. Still enamored with Bulger and thrilled with the Bureau attention his mob case has gained, Connolly decides he can’t afford to bring Whitey down. So he hides evidence that Bulger is killing and mentions the names of snitches to Bulger.
    As bodies pile up, the Feds can’t ignore Bulger. Can they bring down the new crime prince of Boston?
    Based on the true story of the FBI’s deal with the devil, Black Mass is an uneven film anchored by Depp’s great performance. Director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) tries to make the movie about the relationship between Bulger and Connolly. But Connolly and his FBI counterparts are underwritten and uninteresting drags.
    Depp, on the other hand, is electric. His performance is free of the quirks and ticks that have made him a caricature of himself. Bulger is a viper, still and calm until he strikes. Black Mass is Johnny Depp’s revival.

Good Drama • R • 122 mins.