Biography Black Mass

'Black Mass' Blu-ray Review: Johnny Depp delivers a stone-cold killer performance as crime kingpin Whitey Bulger

March 3, 2016Ben MK

Of all the actors the makers of Black Mass could have tapped to fill the lead role, there's perhaps no more interesting choice than Johnny Depp. A chameleon best known for his oddball turns in such movies as Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands, Depp brings an unmistakable gravitas to his performance as James "Whitey" Bulger, leading an all-star cast in dramatizing the crime king of South Boston's rise to power.

Beginning in 1975 and spanning the course of the next 20 years, Black Mass sets out to show just how Bulger became such an imposing crime figure. Structuring the film's narrative around police interrogations of a trio of Bulger's closest associates, director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) weaves a tale of murder and corruption, most of which was made possible thanks to Bulger's close links to FBI agent — and childhood friend — John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who essentially gave him free reign in exchange for his services as an informant against the Italian mafia.

Of course, as history shows, Bulger and Connolly's arrangement would ultimately be their undoing. But Black Mass spends little time dealing with the fallout, which eventually led to Bulger going on the lam. On the contrary, the bulk of the movie deals with such aspects of Bulger's life as his encounters with the mob, the untimely death of his son with a woman named Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson), his relationship with his U.S. Senator brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), his involvement with the sport of Jai Alai, and his dealings with the Irish Republican Army.

Adapted by screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth from the book of the same name by Boston Globe reporters Gerard O'Neill and Dick Lehr, the film features an extraordinary cast that also includes Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll and Juno Temple. However, it's Depp's mesmerizing performance that's the true standout. Suffice to say, there's no mistaking his chilling portrayal of Bulger as another over-the-top caricature like Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka.

Perhaps in keeping with the film's tone and setting, Black Mass' hi-def visual presentation features light film grain and high contrast, as well as a color-corrected palette that sometimes pushes flesh tones towards the orange end of the spectrum. Otherwise, the 1080p image is quite striking, and aside from some minor black crush, there's an appreciable amount of fine detail visible in the image, highlighting such things as the freckles on the actors faces and the film's make-up effects. The disc's primary audio track, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix, is a nice complement to the image, rendering such elements as dialogue, gunfire and period rock and disco music with appropriate clarity.

Warner's two-disc Blu-ray release includes an UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime (23:00) - A making-of documentary that looks at how the filmmakers brought the true story of James "Whitey" Bulger to the screen, with a focus on the characters and shooting on-location in South Boston.
  • Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger (12:24) - A piece about Depp's research, preparation and physical transformation for the role.
  • The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger (1:01:38) - A documentary detailing the efforts to locate and capture Whitey Bulger, featuring interviews with various journalists and law enforcement officials, and covering Bulger's sixteen years as a fugitive, his accomplices and his ties to the FBI.

Black Mass is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of February 16th, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish, French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles. The total runtime is 2 Hrs. 3 Mins.

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