Black Mass is a dark movie. It shows just how much one person can devolve into basic animalism. James “Whitey” Bulger played by Johnny Depp is a complete sociopath who would do anything to remain on top of his criminal empire. Black Mass shows us Bulger’s rise to power, and his eventual downfall. The film is an astounding look at how the FBI became complicit in helping a monster. If you enjoy movies based on true life mob stories this is a must see. If you enjoy Johnny Depp this is a must see. If you enjoy historical dramas this is a must see. Basically, I think the film is a must see.
The performances in this movie are outstanding. Johnny Depp disappears into the role. People were wondering if the makeup and contacts would be a distraction for the movie, but from the start they don’t draw away from Depp’s portrayal of Bulger. Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent John Connolly and is fantastic. He hitches his coattails to Bulger. Bulger is an old friend and Whitey provides information on the Italian mob which builds Connolly’s career. It also built the career of many other FBI agents in Boston, and is the main reason Bulger was never charged with any crimes during his heyday. One downfall of the movie may be that it only focuses on Connolly as the dirty FBI agent. From other articles I have read it appears he may have been a scapegoat (Bulger Trial Conspiracy). Either way Edgerton plays the role perfectly. Watching the film you felt his world crumbling around him once a different attorney general was brought into the Boston office.
The movie does try to show Bulger with some human characteristics. We see him interact with his mom and son at the start of the film, and he does seem to care for them. The film uses these characters as possible reasons why Bulger lost touch with emotions for others. The only other connection in the movie Whitey shows emotions for his is brother Billy Bugler (Benedict Cumberbatch). Cumberbatch isn’t in the movie much, but does a good job for the parts he is in. Billy Bulger was a state senator for 18 years. He was never linked to Whitey’s criminal enterprises and was as honest as a politician could be. Whitey appeared to care for his brother, and didn’t involve him in his business. Going back to true life, Bulger was caught with a common law wife, Catherine Greig, when he was arrested in 2011. This person wasn’t shown in the movie, probably to heighten Bulgers ruthlessness (Bio on Whitey Bulger), and ruthless Bulger was. He gunned down individuals for slight offensives. Killing individuals for the tiniest suspicion of tipping off authorities to his operations. No remorse, no hesitation he just killed if he felt slighted or threatened. He protected himself above all others, the king of his own jungle.
One complaint I have heard for the movie is its lack of a protagonist. There isn’t anyone to root for in the movie. I didn’t have an issue with this, because there wasn’t a protagonist in true life. Bulger wasn’t caught until 2011. Sixteen years after he went on the run. He was caught after an FBI tip, and I wonder how hard the FBI was actually looking for him. From my reading, it seems they are just as culpable for the numerous deaths at Bulger’s hands. It is a dark moment in the FBI’s history and I’m sure they would rather the issue be forgotten. For this fact I’m glad the movie doesn’t have a hero who hunted down Bulger. It isn’t needed because there wasn’t one in true life.
The only drawback to the movie I found was keeping track of the cast of characters. There was a multitude of individuals to keep track of, and a few who are introduced didn’t seem to fit into the storyline. One such individual was Brian Halloran. He was thrown into the middle of the movie out of nowhere. He plays a pivotal role in Bulger’s overall true life story, but his introduction into the film was clunky. He needed to be in the movie, but brought into it in a different way. This along with all of the other Bulger gang members introduced in the movie made it a bit hard to track. The overriding theme though still comes through. Bulger is a very scary individual who was aided by the FBI to increase his control over Boston.
Black Mass is an intriguing movie which forced me to go out and look into the true life accounts of Whitey Bulger. Johnny Depp portrayal of the ruthless man is truly stunning and this fact alone is worth watching the film. It’s not a movie I can watch over and over again, but it is must watch. Some won’t enjoy the movie for the fact there isn’t anyone for the audience to relate too. I got past this since I knew it was based on a true story and their truly wasn’t an individual to root for. Go out and watch Black Mass while it is in theaters. Depp will be in contention for an Oscar when awards season rolls around. His portrayal and the movie are very deserving.
Let me know what you thought of Black Mass if you saw it. What are some of your other favorite gangster movies?
My Top Five Gangster Movies:
1. The Godfather
2. The Godfather Part 2 (really just 1a)
3. The Departed