You won’t fall asleep in this picture, and it has a few nice moments (plus very good performances by Rory Cochrane and W. Earl Brown, as henchmen), but at root, this is a hackneyed crime saga that celebrates the dreary over all else.
Sure, it offers a bonanza of Boston accents. There’s the “Downtaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhn Abbey” (Benedict Cumberbatch, as Whitey Bulger’s more respectable brother), the “all-in” (Australian Joel Edgerton, as the FBI agent who utilizes Bulger as a confidential informant), and even the “Robin Hood Costner” (Corey Stoll, as the U.S. Attorney who brings the Bulger crew down; sometimes he does a Boston and sometimes he says, “Eh, fuggedaboutit”), all of which, mind you, are better than the “Kennedy Costner” from 13 Days, which, while we’re talking, was execrable, yet better than the Cajun Costner in JFK.
As fun as it is watching everyone extend there “aaahhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs”, they ahhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrren’t saying anything worth hearing. We are introduced to Whitey Bulger (played by a monochromatic, cloudy-eyed Johnny Depp) on his way up, and that trip is blindingly dull. He is kind to the old women of the neighborhood, he loves his Mommy, he tells his son “if no one sawwwwr it, it didn’t happen” and if you cross him, he comes at you in a gray, humorless, inexorable way. When he does joke, it’s in the Joe Pesci manner of Goodfellas, by which I mean this movie actually has him bully a guy after the guy says something innocuous, only to say, “I had you going there, didn’t I.” It’s hard to say if Bulger was even that good a criminal. They keep telling us he’s mythic and runs all the dirty deeds in Beantown, but as far as I can tell, he made enough dough to live in a shitty house and occasionally go to Florida to watch Jai alai.
Bulger’s way up was paved by the FBI agent, played by Edgerton, so perhaps he’s the story? He turns out to be not much of one. He wants fancy things and he wants them badly, and he’s loyal to Bulger from his Southie days, so we suffer countless scenes of him defending the protection of Bulger as a source of information at FBI headquarters. Kevin Bacon, who plays Edgerton’s boss, pops in repeatedly to say the same things, awkwardly accompanied by Adam Scott sporting a porn ‘stache (Scott’s presence is jarring; you almost expect the rest of the Anchorman gang to follow behind him). As Edgerton grows more desperate, Edgerton’s Boston mugging gets worse.
With accent wars and a story bordering on the torpid, at least we get Boston, no? Not really, Director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) has a fondness for bad 1970s kitchens and office buildings. We get it. Even interior design was ugly in the 70s.