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Black Mass: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Black Mass (2015) movie poster Black Mass

Theatrical Release: September 18, 2015 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Scott Cooper / Writers: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth (screenplay); Dick Lehr, Gerard O'Neill (book)

Cast: Johnny Depp (James "Whitey" Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Kevin Bacon (FBI Agent Charles McGuire), Peter Sarsgaard (Brian Halloran), Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks), Rory Cochrane (Stephen Flemmi), David Harbour (John Morris), Adam Scott (FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick), Corey Stoll (Fred Wyshak), Julianne Nicholson (Marianne Connolly), W. Earl Brown (John Martorano), Bill Camp (John Callahan), Juno Temple (Deborah Hussey), Mark Mahoney (Mickey Maloney), Brad Carter (John McIntyre), Scott Anderson (Tommy King), Lonnie Farmer (DEA Agent Eric Olsen - Interrogator), Mary Klug (Mom Bulger), Erica McDermott (Mary Bulger), Luke Ryan (Douglas Cyr)

Buy Black Mass from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Once upon a time, not that long ago, Johnny Depp was a highly respected actor, regarded as one of the greatest talents of his generation. Depp had smoothly transitioned from television to cinema, garnering notice for his work in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands and well-received smaller films like What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Ed Wood.
Depp continued on that steady path with lead roles in a mix of arthouse and mainstream fare. Some of it attracted audiences (Donnie Brasco, Burton's Sleepy Hollow, Chocolat) and some of it did not. Then came the part of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a career-changing project.

At first sight, Pirates seems like an obvious career highlight. Depp took what is technically a supporting role in a big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer production based on a theme park ride and had loads of fun with it. The performance was beloved by the public, which spent a barely precedented $300 million domestic and $650 million worldwide to see it in theaters. It was also admired by critics, most of whom were pleasantly surprised to enjoy such a seemingly commercial action-adventure enterprise. Depp's turn earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, the summer attraction lingering in voters' minds unusually long and over more serious, conventionally Oscar-friendly cinema.

Depp did what any reasonable person paid $10 million for five months of fun, exciting, fulfilling work would do: he took up Disney's offer to make another. His salary doubled for 2006's Dead Man's Chest, the first of back-to-back sequels, which became only the third movie ever to cross the $1 billion mark at the global box office. Depp had already cashed in his newfound stardom and family appeal on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and similar big paydays were to be had on Pirates threequel At World's End and Alice in Wonderland, for which he earned $50 million for a supporting role.

In this time, Depp evolved into essentially the world's most expensive children's entertainer. The promise of his early films had given way to a willingness to don outrageous costumes and make-up while adopting a funny voice. Depp's Disney and Burton movies had turned him into a cultural icon worldwide, in the process amassing him a large enough fortune to buy his own private island in the Bahamas.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and people began to tire of his shtick when he returned to the Pirates well for a fourth outing with mostly new personnel shortly before his 50th birthday. The movie handily set a franchise low domestically, while still becoming the actor's third Disney movie to enter the billion dollar blockbuster club globally. Although foreign moviegoers couldn't resist the prospect of Depp resurrecting his mascara, bandana, and dreadlocks, they have not been as receptive to his efforts outside that saga. Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, and Transcendence all struck out commercially, each a bigger flop than the one before it. In January 2015, Depp reached a new low with Mortdecai, the evidently miscalculated R-rated screwball comedy Depp dropped out of The Grand Budapest Hotel to make. Only two movies released in 2,000+ theaters (Victor Frankenstein and Zac Efron's We Are Your Friends) performed worse last year.

Johnny Depp transforms himself to play Whitey Bulger, the notorious, ice cold crime boss of South Boston in "Black Mass."

What Depp desperately needs -- and what 2016's Alice and 2017's Pirates sequels certainly cannot give him -- is redemption. To that end, here is Black Mass, a true crime drama that sees Depp doing some of his first adult-oriented serious acting in quite some time. Depp transforms himself physically to resemble the notorious Boston criminal Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger.

Depp's makeover is dramatic enough to render him unrecognizable for moviegoers not watching the trailer closely enough. His receding golden white hair is slicked back. His teeth are stained, especially the dark rotten incisor in front. Most noticeable of all are his icy blue eyes, a gateway to the apparent soullessness of this stone cold kingpin.

Whitey and his Irish-American crew, the Winter Hill Gang, run South Boston, the neighborhood called "Southy" by its residents. Having served close to a decade in jail, Whitey is back in power in the mid-1970s, when the film opens. With tensions brewing between the Winter Hill Gang and the Italian-American crime family that has typically claimed North Boston, Whitey is approached by FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) about becoming an informant. Cringing at the notion of being a rat, Whitey reconsiders after realizing he can use this allegiance strategically to protect his gang and eliminate potentially threatening other ones.

The movie shows us just how deadly and exacting Whitey Bulger is. A long-trusted confidante gets slightly intoxicated and acts out of line. He is whacked. Whitey's partner (Fifty Shades of Gray's Dakota Johnson) is briskly dropped after she reacts to their son's upsetting medical diagnosis.

Adapted from the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, the film's interest in Bulger's ruthlessness is matched by its concern for the corruption of Connolly, a married lawman content with his old neighborhood and not above taking a handout, falsifying information, and doing exactly what Whitey wants him to do.

"Black Mass" shows much interest in John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), an FBI agent who forms an unholy alliance with Whitey Bulger that eats away at his morals.

The third film directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), Black Mass is slow but compelling. The film is well-cast and absorbing. Character actors like Dazed and Confused's Rory Cochrane and "Breaking Bad"'s Jesse Plemons shun vanity and gain weight to portray Whitey's altogether and believably unglamorous associates. Others like Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, and Corey Stoll swallow their pride to fill roles less substantial than the ones they typically take. Everyone is sacrificing for a greater good, in this case to do justice to a story of a criminal whose name may be more (in)famous than his deeds.

Those waiting for a big knockout punch never get one. The movie plods along, most arrestingly with a cathartically comic, likely imagined dinner that pays homage to Joe Pesci's most quotable Goodfellas exchange. Few of the crimes dramatized really get under your skin, though one involving a young prostitute (Juno Temple) comes close.
The movie's final minutes of impact come in text screens revealing what happened to all these people dramatized in the film and end credits showing us how much or little the cast resembles their real life counterparts. Though it gets his rotten incisor, style, and eyewear right, Depp's otherworldly appearance doesn't all that uncannily capture Bulger, who unsurprisingly wanted nothing to do with the film.

One gathers that Cooper and screenwriters, American first-timer Mark Mallouk and UK veteran Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow, Get On Up, Spectre) aren't interested in playing free with the facts. But they also aren't too interested in capturing the flavor of the time and place. A single scene set in a strobe light-flashing disco hall reminds us we're in the '70s and a framework of testimony from Bulger's aged associates gives us an idea of where this is going. But even if Cooper displays enough ambition and desire to do this justice, we miss the sensory stimulation and immediacy of superior crime movies like Goodfellas and American Hustle.

Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) is less than thrilled to be disturbed during the St. Patrick's Day Parade, especially by an FBI agent (Joel Edgerton) in broad daylight.

Depp seems to fall just short of a performance that could win him an Oscar. He probably was not far from picking up his fourth nomination in the Best Actor category, but Black Mass seemed to arrive too early in the season and was soon eclipsed by slowly expanding fare with legs. It is surprising he was unable to claim one of the Golden Globes' five Best Actor in a Drama slots too, considering his history of recognition there.

Seeing Depp tackle a complex real-life figure in a movie for adults is an encouraging sign that he is ready to return to the serious acting that first made him stand out. That he will follow this up with not one but two unnecessary, big budget, effects-laden Disney sequels virtually drains any hope for this to be a true career resurgence. Still, it's a strong turn in a film of worth, something Depp's oldest fans have probably long been itching for.

After a fairly strong second place opening, Black Mass struggled to attract moviegoers, ending up with $63 million domestic and $99 M worldwide on a $53 M production budget. Those are okay numbers, but nothing to suggest that Depp's star power continues to fall. (Adjusting for inflation, Donnie Brasco, Blow, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico all performed better.) Initially announced for a Christmastime bow, Black Mass got delayed until this Valentine's Day week, but it will not feature in the upcoming Oscars at all, having even missed out on a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nomination after cracking the shortlist of seven.

This week, Warner made Black Mass available on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Black Mass: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Service, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Very little needs to be said here. As a healthily budgeted new studio film from a pedigreed director, Black Mass looks terrific on Blu-ray, as it should. The 2.40:1 presentation shows off nice compositions with all the sharpness and detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is also sufficiently potent.

Director Scott Cooper discusses his approach to making the film in "Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime." Johnny Depp is transformed in "Becoming Whitey Bulger."


The Black Mass Blu-ray includes three HD video extras.

First up, "Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime" (23:00) provides a general overview of the real people dramatized and the film's depictions of them.

"Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger" (12:24) explores the physical transformation -- via make-up, prosthetics, and ice blue contact lenses -- the leading man underwent in his first mature role in years. It also touches on other facets of the characterization, with Depp confessing he considers Bulger a man of honor.

Age-progressed photos of the real Whitey Bulger feature in the hour-long documentary "The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger." The "Black Mass" DVD and Blu-ray menus do not crop the poster art image as closely as the cover art does.

Finally, "The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger" (1:01:38) is a self-standing, TV-ready true crime documentary about the 2011 capture of Bulger and the decades of searching leading up to it.
FBI agents, state attorneys, and others with an interest in the case (most compellingly, Bulger's unwitting neighbor) discuss the overdue apprehension and the long and wide pursuit it followed. Though these subjects are barely touched upon in the film, which this was seemingly made independently of, this new piece is a substantial, welcome, and interesting inclusion.

Of these three, the DVD only includes "Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger."

The Blu-ray opens with a promo for Warner's disc to digital conversion and another touting the benefits of digital movies in general. The DVD opens with an anti-tobacco spot followed by trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Creed, and digital movies.

Characteristic for Warner, the simple menu attaches score to the poster art that is zoomed in for the atypical cover art.

The eco-friendly keepcase holding the two subtly-textured discs and Digital HD insert is topped by a slipcover applying some texture effects to the same artwork below.

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) has some questions for a prostitute who spent the night in jail.


Though Black Mass did not end up being the next classic crime saga, the film appeals with its compelling portrayal of unsavory characters. With its sharp direction and strong acting, the film absolutely deserves to be seen.

Warner's combo pack complements a first-rate feature presentation with three substantial extras. It's a set that is easily recommended for those who enjoyed the film and see themselves revisiting it.

Buy Black Mass from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed February 19, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures, and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, 2016 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.