While his younger brother Bill (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a powerful part of the Massachusetts Senate, small time Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) continues to live a life of crime during 1970s Boston. Approached by an old childhood acquaintance and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), he convinces James to align himself with him to help the FBI apprehend the Italian mob of North Boston. As their unorthodox partnership gets out of control, Bulger increases his and his gang’s power while also evading capture thus becoming one of the most dangerous gangsters in U.S. history.
When one thinks of great gangster films, you think of The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc. While it would be difficult to reach the caliber of those films, this one comes close. I thought the film did a great job at setting up what it would be like in 1970s Boston. From the gloomy and dirty locales, the clothing, etc, the film was very authentic and viewers should get the style quickly. The story was not as deep as I would have liked it to be since all of the gangster-related subject matter was mostly just mentioned and never showed but it did have some great moments that kept me engaged. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be intense. This is because of the great acting on display in this film, Boston accents and all. But the best of those are Johnny Depp as Bulger and Joel Edgerton as Connolly. Depp is unrecognizable here as Bulger. From the aged look, the receding hairline and those piercing blue eyes, his transformation is a great example of excellent makeup work and manages to never look out of place. He really just disappears within all of the prosthetics. Depp has not had a good run of films recently but he has definitely made a comeback here by giving his best performance since playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the original Pirates of the Caribbean film in which he was nominated for an Oscar. I would be shocked if he wasn’t at least nominated for an Oscar for this next year. He transforms himself into the psychopath Bulger was, able to go from charming and charismatic to scary evil and just plain dangerous on a dime. Edgerton was also great as the ambitious agent Connolly. After those two, it does drop considerably, however, as they are the only characters that seem to have some depth. I also found it a little odd that there are no real female roles in this film as the only ones we get to see are relegated to the background. I’m not trying to be a chauvinist but that was what the world was like back then so I didn’t mind that too much. Criticisms aside, this is Johnny Depp’s film because he is the only one you’re paying any attention to since his performance is so great. No this is not like any of the films I mentioned at the beginning but Depp’s performance alone is why I would recommend this film.