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'Black Mass,' Starring Johnny Depp, Leads Off Fall Movie Season


Now that summer movies are behind us, one of the first big movies of the fall season hits theaters today. "Black Mass" is a biopic of the notorious Boston crime boss James Whitey Bulger. It stars Johnny Depp in a surprisingly terrifying role, here menacing one of his associates.


JOHNNY DEPP: (As James Whitey Bulger) Take the money. Keep your mouth shut about what you just heard. It's best you're not involved. Take the money. Take the money. Take the money.

MONTAGNE: Bad guy. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan is here with us to talk about it. Good morning, Ken.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Good morning. And I'm still kind of shaking from hearing that clip - quite terrifying.

MONTAGNE: You know, of course Johnny Depp is known for transforming into very different characters, pirate - not a terrifying one, though - The Mad Hatter. Does he work as James Whitey Bulger?

TURAN: Absolutely. I think this is one of Johnny Depp's best roles in years. Jimmy Bulger, as he liked to be called, was an extremely charismatic person. He was an evil gang lord, but he really had a very forceful personality. So Johnny Depp's charisma really works here. But Johnny Depp likes to disappear inside of roles. He doesn't want to play the conventional leading man. And again, he uses a lot of makeup and accent and different color contact lenses. And he really disappears inside of Jimmy Bulger.

MONTAGNE: And Jimmy Bulger, or Whitey Bulger, he had, of course, this long history as a criminal. What part of his career does the movie "Black Mass" focus on?

TURAN: Well, he had and alliance at one part of his career - unlikely as it seems - with the FBI. New FBI agent, played by Joel Edgerton, comes to Boston, wants to wipe out the Italian Mafia. And he turns to the Irish Mafia, which is Whitey Bulger. But Whitey Bulger also turns out to be a friend of his from childhood. These guys go way back. And you can hear their meeting, when this alliance is formed, in this clip.


JOEL EDGERTON: (As John Connolly) It's an alliance.

DEPP: (As James Whitey Bulger) An alliance between me and the FBI.

EDGERTON: (As John Connolly) No, no, between you and me. I can help you, Jimmy. And you could help me.

TURAN: Now, the FBI thinks they're in charge of the situation. But really what's happening is Whitey Bulger is conning the FBI.

MONTAGNE: So worth checking out.

TURAN: It is. But everyone has to remember this is a very bleak story. This is a dark story. This is a grim story. There's nothing transcendent about this story. It's deeply fascinating. It's a wonderful Johnny Depp performance. But it is not a happy film.

MONTAGNE: The movie is "Black Mass." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Glad to have you back, Ken.

TURAN: It's great to be here, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.