Depp dazzles as Whitey Bulger in ‘Black Mass’
Let me begin by saying I like mobster movies and I like Johnny Depp, so this film already had that going for it. The film intrigued me because I had watched more than a few documentaries and CNN specials on the subject of the infamous James, “Whitey” Bulger, but this movie is a more fictionalized “true story” of his life. As one of Bulgers real life henchman was quoted saying about the film, “The only resemblance to Whitey’s character was the hairline.” To be fair, this is a Hollywood movie with name-brand stars, so of course it takes many creative liberties, but it’s still a good mobster film with some great acting.
James, “Whitey” Bulger, played to the hilt by Depp, is a “Southie”, growing up in the Irish boroughs of South Boston. He goes from a local thug to a heavy hitting mob boss quickly and that is due in part to one of his old childhood buddies, John Connely, played by Joel Edgerton. Connely works for the FBI and at this point in time, the FBI is hard focused on the Italian mafia who control the north end of Boston. He and Whitey both could do without the Italians, specifically the Angiulo Brothers. Connely is a just another FBI agent, but he desperately wants to make a name for himself and seeks out his old neighborhood pal Whitey to see if they can’t work together for a common goal: getting the Italians out. Having an FBI agent in his back pocket gives Whitey all the power he could ask for. With the FBI feeding him information Whitey is able to take down the Angiulo family and run complete havoc over Boston and anybody who crosses him. He does this without any fear of being caught by the cops or the FBI. As Whitey once said, “ Christmas is for kids and cops,” and he makes sure both are taken care of every year.
The film gives us a great picture of a ruthless gangster, who literally took no prisoners, and left no loose ends. He was smart, calculating, and like all gangsters, very hot tempered. Depp jumps into this character and takes us on the ride of Hollywood’s version of this Irish mobster, and it’s an interesting ride for sure. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey’s brother, a State Senator, who somehow manages to stay clear of being a target during all of Whitey’s gangster activities. Jesse Plemons plays henchman Kevin Weeks, who was a key witness against Whitey during his trial in 2013. Plemons nails this character and the many close-up shots of his face tell the story very well.
The film has had a lot of controversy from both the real Bulger, who refused to communicate with Depp in any way for this role, and still won’t watch the movie, to Whitey’s real life henchman who call it a good fictional tale.
In true life, it has been hard to say who worked for who, in regards to his relationship with the FBI, but clearly they both benefited from the partnership and many people were killed in the fray that finally ended in Connely’s conviction and much later, the conviction of Whitey Bulger. Bulger was brought to trial based on the damning testimony of some of his right-hand guys, and was up for 19 counts of murder and found guilty of 11.
What I wish the film had taken further was how a guy like this managed to run free for 17 years before being caught in an apartment complex in Santa Monica. I assume the life of Whitey Bulger is a complicated one, one that can’t be told in a two-hour movie, but there has got be so much more story to tell of this notorious mobster, and I’m sure there will be more than a few more movies about Whitey Bulger yet to come.