Johnny Depp was the face of evil in 2015. There, I said it. Thanks to the 2001 non-fiction expose, Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, Depp delivered a magnificently wicked performance as Whitey Bulger. (The only other film that came close to that was Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, but after Prisoners, we know he gets evil.) The only surprise in this package of Warner Bros.’ creative retelling of how Bulger manipulated, well, everyone, is that it didn’t make the Oscars list of nominations.
Bulger rules South Boston with his Winter Hill Gang in the 1970s, driven by the many slights he sees and the unpacked anger at the death of his young son. (To be clear, Bulger was evil before but the tragedy pushed him to new depths.) Joel Edgerton’s John Connolly plays the field as an FBI agent who uses his childhood friendship with Bulger to take care of other violent Boston elements, while ‘controlling’ Bulger. The problem is that when you dance with the devil, you always get burned.
For those who want to know more about the quick wrap-up at the end, how Bulger was on the run for sixteen years from the FBI, then watching the high definition film at home and unpacking the special features is the way to go. You’ll see how Depp became Bulger and how the whole conspiracy unraveled, as well as understand how the federal authorities finally tracked him down.
But it will still leave you scratching your head at the man’s utter sociopathy. Two scenes in particular haunted me for days after first seeing the film: Depp threatens Connolly’s wife in a scene that invokes the dread of Fury’s mealtime soiree before the bombing, and elsewhere, he casually disposes of a woman who happened to know to much.
It’s Bulger’s casual disregard for human life while pursuing his own power that shows us how dark the world can be. It’s not driven by some crazy love or good taken too far – it’s just that ultimately, Bulger only cares about himself. God forbid we ever allow ourselves to get lost in that darkness.