Black Mass

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Black Mass Movie Poster Image
Depp terrifies as dangerously violent real-life gangster.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 122 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 17+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Loyalty is important, even to criminals. The main characters grew up together, and even though one is now an FBI agent and the other is a criminal, they frequently fall back on their longtime bonds and refuse to betray each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character is a violent gangster who kills anyone who gets in his way; he's abetted by corrupt, complicit law enforcement agents -- nobody comes across in a positive way.

Violence

Bulger and his fellow violent thugs are shown taking out their enemies throughout the film. They beat people to a pulp, shoot them in the head at close range, strangle them, and leave bloodied corpses on the street, in cars, and more -- and it's all shown in gory close-up. Other killings are seen through graphic crime-scene photos, and still more happen off screen. Bulger is extremely menacing.

Sex

A few scenes mention sexual activity; a sequence set at a nightclub shows couples dancing and groping each other.

Language

Constant, extreme swearing right from the very first scene. Characters use "f--k" in almost every conversation, and there's plenty of "s--t," "c--ksucker," and "f----t" as well.

Consumerism

Adults drink Budweiser and Canada Dry.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine, beer, and hard liquor while socializing/hanging out at a bar. A few characters smoke cigarettes and cigars frequently. The main character is a gangster who controls the local drug trade, though viewers rarely see any drugs being sold or used. A minor character is shown snorting cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Black Mass is based on the true story of James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) -- the most notorious gangster in South Boston history -- and his relationship with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The pair, who were childhood pals, form an alliance to help take down Bulger's rivals, and things quickly get complicated ... and very violent. Expect many scenes of graphic brutality as Bulger (who exudes menace at all times) takes out anyone in his way, with gory, close-up scenes of people being shot in the head and beaten to death, as well as a disturbing, graphic strangulation. There's also extensive swearing, including "f--k" in nearly every scene, and plenty of drinking and smoking, as well as a little drug use and some groping and sex references, so this true-crime drama is best saved for older viewers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysarge123 September 19, 2015
Adult Written byLourdes Hurtado September 22, 2015
Teen, 17 years old Written byStevie111 September 21, 2015

Decent Film, though a bit too dramatic and dry

This film was very monotone, there wasn't much excitement or anything special. I get it was a true story, but I feel they could have made it a bit more int... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byrebo344 October 17, 2015

A bit letdown.

I was hyped for Black Mass because of the outstanding cast and interesting story. It was good, but ended up being dull. Johnny Depp gave his best performance in... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's the 1970s, and James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) is the most feared gangster in Boston's underworld -- but few of his fellow thugs know that he's also working with the FBI. John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), Bulger's childhood friend, has grown up to become an FBI agent, and the two make a complicated arrangement that's the focus of BLACK MASS. In exchange for protection, Bulger provides information that helps Connolly take down his pal's rivals. That leaves Bulger free to expand his own criminal empire -- and as he becomes more successful, he also becomes even more violent.

Is it any good?

The story of James "Whitey" Bulger -- mobster-turned-FBI-informant-turned-fugitive -- is the stuff of great fiction; Black Mass nearly does this rich material justice, but not quite. First, the good stuff: Told in a bracing history-revisited fashion bolstered by close-up "interviews," the film feels like it's allowing audiences into the backstage of a criminal investigation that most aren't privy to -- an effective means to lure viewers in. And the actors don't disappoint; as an ensemble, they're like a finely tuned machine (or, if you prefer, gang) that knows how to move with precision, led by a Depp so intense he could make you quake with his stare (though his over-the-top makeup is a bit distracting).

If only the movie dug as deep as it does wide. There's a Cliffs Notes-version feel to the Bulger we see here, and not much time is spent on getting to know what motivates him -- nor what he was like when he was finally captured. Nonetheless, Black Mass thrills.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Black Mass. Is it more or less disturbing than what you'd see in an action or horror movie? Why? What's the impact of different kinds of media violence?

  • Black Mass is based on a true story. Do you think Bulger was really as violent as he's portrayed here? Why might filmmakers tweak the facts in movies based on real events? How could you find out more?

  • Talk about the relationship between Bulger and Connolly. Who's using who? Is the FBI agent corrupt, or is he really trying to clean up Boston? How are the "good guys" and "bad guys" different in this movie?

  • How does the movie address the idea of good vs. evil? Can people be both? Bulger is clearly a bad guy, but his neighbors love him. How can one person be so many different things to different people?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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