Friday, September 18, 2015
Back in 1975, Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) is the leader of Winter Hill Gang in Boston. He isn't the mean-jerk-on-the-block type of gangster. Quite the contrary, he shows respect to the elderly in the neighborhood. He spends time with his cheerful mother and his politician brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch). He expresses his genuine affection toward his young son. He speaks softly but precisely to his fellow gang members. But make no mistake, he is anything but weak and soft. He is calculated, intelligent, cruel, and ambitious. He doesn't blink his eyes when he brutally destroys any obstacle that blocks his way to achieve his goal.
When a childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who works for the FBI, approaches Whitey and offers him a deal to be an informant, Whitey sees a golden opportunity to expand his territory by using the feds to get rid of the Italian mafia on his turf. He regards the arrangement as strict business and he insists that he is not a rat. In fact, the corrupt FBI agent John Connolly is the one who effectively helps Whitey to rise to immense power in Boston's organized crime world.
But the con-artist's scheme can only go so far being unnoticed. When the FBI zooms in on John Connolly, Whitey's kingdom collapses and he finally falls after winning the game for decades.
Although the director Scott Cooper superbly tells an arresting story about Whitey and brings together terrific performances by a large group of fine actors, this film doesn't reach to the greatness level of mafia films such as Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990). However, the film does have plenty of mesmerizing moments that pay tributes to those great films. For example, when Whitney expresses his disgust about his man's poor hygiene manner while eating peanuts in a bar, the image reminds us of the garlic slicing scene in "Goodfellas." When Whitney asks about a secret recipe at the dining table, the scene nods to Joe Pesci's "funny how" question in "Goodfellas" as well. Unfortunately, the film doesn't seem to have much that is new to add to the gangster movies, other than exhibiting graphic violence like other typical movies about organized crimes.
That being said, you are in for a delightful treat to see an exhilarating performance by the almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp. Shaking off his cartoonish image as a pirate, he marvelously transcend Whitney's complex persona through his soft-spoken tone, his fierce gaze, and his subtle body language. I won't be surprised if he finally wins an Oscar after being nominated three times.
The film appears to make Whitey Bulger even more mysterious. It won't be long before another movie unveils his life in California as a fugitive for more than a decade.