A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- In theaters: September 18, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2015
- Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson
- Director: Scott Cooper
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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