Film Review: Black Mass
In 2015, Scott Cooper released Black Mass, based on the 2001 book, Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott, Brad Carter, Juno Temple, Bill Camp, Jeremy Strong, and W. Earl Brown, the film grossed $99.8 million at the box office. Winner of the Palm Springs International Film Festival Desert Palm Achievement Award, the film was nominated for multiple other awards, including the Satellite Awards for Best Film, Best Actor – Motion Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, the Saturn Awards for Best Thriller film and Best Make-up and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
In 1975, Whitey Bulger is already the head of south Boston’s Irish mob and his Winter Hill gang is fighting a turf war with the Angiulo Brothers, an Italian crime gang that’s trying to edge Winter Hill out of Boston. Therefore, in order to stay in control of Boston’s organized crime, Bulger takes childhood friend and FBI Agent John Connolly’s idea of informing on the Italian mafia. However, this makes things easier for Bulger and Connolly gets in too deep with Bulger, going so far as to protect him and becoming his mole in the FBI, which allows the man to become Boston’s most notorious gangster.
Though elements of the truth were changed to tell a more cohesive story, Black Mass is a great film depicting the depravity of someone such as Bulger. The film depicts the brutality the man causes in order to not only get to the top of Boston’s criminal underworld, but to stay there as well. Notably though, there are a few moments in the film that show how far over the line Bulger has gone, one of which being when he strangles his right hand man’s stepdaughter to death on the basis that since she was busted for prostitution, then she must have talked to the police and therefore she knew too much and had to die. Another great part of the film that demonstrates that Bulger is practically irredeemable is him going out of his way to threaten Connolly’s wife just because she politely declined to have dinner with him and Connelly.
Interestingly, the film also decides to show that even though Bulger has sailed so far off the slippery slope that the line became nonexistent, he still has some glimmers of humanity left in him. For one, he loves his mother. Bulger may have murdered more than a few people and cares only for himself, but he still visits his mother at her home and plays gin with her. There’s also how he acts towards his son until the boy dies, with his role as a dearly affectionate father not being an act at all. If anything, actually, it’s possible that his son was the only thing that kept him from being completely swallowed by darkness as his most depraved moments come following his son’s death.
Depp also provides some great acting in the film, which is essentially him proving that even though he had a few bust performances prior to this one, he hadn’t just become a one-note character actor. In the aforementioned scene where Bulger is threatening Connolly’s wife, his performance alone makes the scene with the way he carries himself making it hard to guess where the scene is going to end, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat. His acting and makeup were done very well, too, especially the contacts he wore making his eyes blue that helped to further that aura of creepiness.
Connelly himself is also an interesting character, with him getting in so deep with Bulger that he starts to believe his own lies that Bulger is valuable as an informer to the FBI. What’s more is that he uses the strong ties that those in south Boston have with each other to further delude himself into thinking that he’s doing the right thing. He’s great as a character that shows how easy it is to continue to fall into darkness and stay there believing that nothing wrong is happening after getting into bed with someone like Bulger.
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