With a star studded cast (Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard), Black Mass is not a movie for the faint of heart. The first ten minutes of the movie depict scenes of gruesome murder and mob hits. Shown in a fractured narrative perspective from two of Whitey Bulger’s former accomplices, Black Mass tells the tale of James Whitey Bulger, a ruthless Irish American gangster. He’s the leader of the Winter Hill Gang. As with any mafia related story, the Winter Hill gang has an enemy in the form of the Angulio Brothers, another rival group who try to muscle in on the Winter Hill Gang’s turf.
South Boston (also known as “Southie”) is an area teeming with crime, violence, guns and racketeering. It lends to the very gritty, dark and violent tone of the film. Even the colors lend themselves to the ominous undertones: lot of grey, black, blue and white in the film. As in, a lack of color in the movie lends to the bleak desolation of just how violent a place South Boston was to live. Whitey Bulger has a childhood friend named John Connolly, who’s an FBI agent and has newly returned to Southie. Their childhood connection is put to the test when Connolly attempts to bring Whitey in to work with the FBI, in order to bring the Angulio Brothers down. How can a ruthless gangster ally himself with a lawman? Won’t that make a man become known as a “rat?”
And we all know what ends up happening to rats, especially in mobster films, right?! And we also know that childhood friends who grow up and end up on the opposite side of the law tend to see their relationship strained to the breaking point. Often, there are many other people along the way who end up victims, getting injured, emotionally abused or murdered along the way.
When Connolly presses Whitey for information about the Angulio brothers in exchange for protection from the law, things really become complicated. Even though Whitey throws his old childhood buddy a few crumbs about the Angulio Brothers, thus leading to several arrests, the relationship becomes increasingly one-sided. Whitey is the one who profits off of having his criminal activities covered up and Connolly begins to change in personality and work ethic. Whitey, for his part, is a sociopath and extremely dangerous. When business deals don’t go his way or someone accidentally insults him, the end result is cold blooded murder.
Enter a new, tough as nails assistant US Attorney in Boston who is bent on taking Whitey Bulger down fast. This does not bode well for Connolly. Connolly pays the price with his career; Whitey continually murders anyone in his path or thwarts his plans. In the end, there are no winners, only losers. People fall from grace. Others turn to a life of being an FBI informant. Others remain unrepentant until the very end.
Johnny Depp’s performance as James Whitey Bulger is truly frightening. Not only did Johnny Depp undergo extensive make up and prosthetics to look the part, but he also carries the South Boston Irish accent very well. His eyes are cold like ice and he has a cool, menacing demeanor about him. The way he depicts James Whitey Bulger in the film was like that of a good guy and a bad guy. The local neighbors that he’d help loved him and looked to him as some sort of neighborhood provider. The law looked at him as a huge menace to society. Watching some of the bleak landscapes of South Boston, it lent the feel of a city that had its’ share of problems. Lots of bridges, rivers, worn looking and run down houses and shacks really evoke a sense of strife and hard times for the people that lived in the area.
If you’re looking for a gangster movie with plenty of violence, muscle and big names, then this one is for you. You get chills just thinking about how much of a threat Whitey Bulger was in his neighborhood. When you command that much fear, you also command a lot of power.