Enough of your fancy words, TL;DR
The long and short of this review can be summed up in four bullet points, if you don’t care to read my fancy keyboard typing.
- Johnny Depp played his best role in decades
- This movie probably isn’t historically accurate, nonetheless it’s a great movie anyway (except the exceedingly butt-hurt James Bulger)
- Jack Sparrow was nowhere to be found!
- You don’t get in trouble for punching people in the face, you get in trouble for punching people in the face while other people are watching
One final point you can take away, the name “John” appears a lot in both the cast and character names on this film. Like, more than usual.
- James “Whitey” Bulger – Johnny Depp
- Kevin Weeks – Jesse Plemons
- Steve Flemmi – Rory Cochrane
- John Connolly – Joel Edgerton
- John Martorano – W. Earl Brown
- Marianne Connolly – Julianne Nicholson
- John Morris – David Harbour
- Billy Bulger – Benedict Cumberbatch
- Lindsey Cyr – Dakota Johnson
A Note on Historical Accuracy
The aim of this film appears to be biographical. It looks like they’re trying to bring us a dramatization of the life, times, and crimes of James “Whitey” Bulger. While there is some seemingly-authoritative doubt about the authenticity of events as portrayed in this film, the position of this reviewer is that none of that matters. I am reviewing this film as it was brought to me.
I have not read the court transcripts or watched the news programs or actual documentaries on this gang or its crimes, nor do I intend to. I’m a guy who watches too many movies and then writes about them, I am not a historian. The people who made you this film are also likely not to be historians, but rather film makers. The actors were trying to entertain you, maybe inform you a little bit, but I doubt that they lost any sleep on the seeming discrepancies in the historical record either.
The Premise of the Film
Johnny Depp plays the character of James Bulger as he leads his group of between two and five henchmen on a series of crimes throughout Boston in the late 1970’s. They run rackets, they push dope, they kill people. Johnny Depp can be scary as hell. He portrays James Bulger as he goes through the very serious, profound, and tragic events which change a fun-loving but misguided mobster into a monster who lashes out at anybody who even indicates that they would be capable of betraying him.
James Bulger is not alone, of course. He makes a pact with a childhood friend, John Connolly – played brilliantly by Joel Edgerton – who is an FBI agent investigating organized crime in Boston. Agent Connolly grants James informant status, which gives him a significant amount of freedom to continue his crimes without scrutiny. Agent Connolly presents James Bulger as a misguided boy-scout (my hyperbolic words) who has been helpful in cleaning up Boston’s underworld while burying any investigation which starts going in the direction of Bulger.
My Thoughts on the Acting
So, as the website says, I watch too many movies. I’ve seen a lot of Johnny Depp films from Benny and Joon to Sweeny Todd (one of my favorites), and of course all of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. My biggest complaint of late has been that Johnny Depp has played the same character over and over again for the last decade with minor exceptions. While I think this guy is an amazing actor, I’ve been sad to see how he has been cast lately. I went into this film thrilled to see something different, and Johnny Depp delivered.
Surprisingly, I think the weakest actor in this film was another one of my favorites – and evidently everybody else’s as well – was Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought the role of Billy Bulger, despite being a lesser supporting role, could have been done better. I wasn’t buying the accent, I wasn’t buying the simultaneous concern and contempt, and I wasn’t buying the way that he was so close to his brother yet still so distant. Part of that is the script, and part of that was Benedict. I don’t get the feeling that he was really into this one.
Let’s talk about Jesse Plemons for a minute. This guy has a distinct look, but he also has incredible range (just look at the diversity in his filmography, no, seriously, click this link). He can play a mobster, an innocent kid, a drug runner, and a bunch more. Jesse Plemons played a very compelling Kevin Weeks, and I believed every bit of it.
This film was amazing. It’s a feather in the cap of all involved, evidence of continued greatness on the part of Johnny Depp, and it really shows that each and every person involved in this film knows how to spin a tale – based on real events – which has the ability to help an audience see that tragedy has an effect on people, that the good guys are sometimes crooked and stupid, and even that sometimes you are right to feel sympathy for the bad guy.