A blend of true crime and the interesting directing of Scott Cooper make this a must watch for anyone interesting in learning about the underworld of Boston’s history.
Johnny Depp stars as James “Whitey” Bulger and I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to see Depp take a role that isn’t a ridiculous character piece. Not that I don’t love Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but roles like this, his role as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, (2010) Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013) and…I could go on, but I won’t. These roles are all so ridiculously ridiculous that you forget that Depp is a talented actor.
Director Scott Cooper (which first movie was great: Out of Furnace) was up to the task of directing Depp through South Boston in the mid 1970’s till the mid 1980’s. The wardrobe, music, and the politics change through the decade and give the viewer little extras to watch out for. The music is relevant to the time periods, so if you like rock from this period you’ll be tapping your toe the whole time. There is a dash of Irish music mixed in due to both Boston and Bulger’s ties to Ireland.
As for the movie itself, Cooper could have turned a movie about the mob into a blood fest, but instead the violence is controlled, cool, and calculated which go to show the viewer just how much power Bulger had over the situation. Bulger was also unpredictable and that is demonstrated through the movie. One scene has him testing an FBI agent over a secret family recipe and when the FBI agent gives in and tells him, Bulger uses that as an example of not being able to trust the agent. The overall scene is uncomfortable to watch because by now Bulger could do anything. For the FBI agent it is a clear reminder that he is dealing with the mafia and any misstep puts his life in jeopardy.
You can’t have a good mob movie without two factors, the family and the police. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, William “Billy” Bulger, his one flaw is that he can’t fully conquer the Boston accent. William Bulger in real life was Massachusetts’s Governor while his brother Bulger was a mob kingpin. Joel Edgerton plays main FBI agent John Connolly who grew up in South Boston with Bulger, which put him in the interesting position to offer Bulger an offer he couldn’t refuse: to work with the FBI.
Depp pulls off the stress of a relationship with the FBI and that of keeping his brother out of the crime factor perfectly. While as previously mentioned the scenes never get as violent as they could for a mob movie, Cooper instead shows Bulger’s stress come out in other erratic behavior such Bulger’s games with the FBI and his relationship with the IRA. This drama in Bulger’s life goes to underscore the human factor that often gets missed in crime dramas. Depp’s performance brings out the man that Bulger was, instead of the mob boss he has become known as.
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I can’t give this movie 100% because it lacked something for me; it wasn’t in the acting or the directing, but in the story itself. The story of Bulger left me empty through no fault of its own. I needed closure and although the film ended with Bulger’s arrest he lived a whole life on the run that the audience never learned about. Also, who helped him during this time? If you can live without knowing these facts until you can get to Google, you’ll enjoy this movie more than I did.
image source: Warner Bros