Monday, January 4, 2016

Black Mass

Last month, I saw Black Mass at the Castro Theater.

Black Mass starring Johnny Depp & Joel Edgerton; directed by Scott Cooper; (2015) - Official Website

A stylish 1970s period piece about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), Black Mass reminded me of Donnie Brasco, American Hustle & American Gangster.  Based on the true story of Bulger's co-opting his FBI handler into his accomplice.

South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is surviving in the early 1970s until childhood acquaintance John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns to town.  Connolly is now an FBI agent and he proposes that Whitey become an FBI informant.  Whitey can feed Connolly information about the Patricia Crime Family, a rival criminal gang.  Connolly can bust the organized crime family while Whitey benefits from having his main rival gang busted up as well as from having FBI protection.

From the start, Connolly seems more eager to be Whitey's confidante and friend than his FBI handler.  Bulger is suspicious of the arrangement and loathes the prospect of being an informant even if he would benefit from it.  Ultimately, Whitey reluctantly accepts the arrangement but quickly turns Connolly's hero worship to his advantage.  When Whitey's son dies of Reye's Syndrome,  the already violence prone gangster loses much of his sense of self-control and Connolly willingly abets him at every turn.

While Connolly is covering up Bulger's criminal activities and harassing the Italian Mob, Bulger consolidates his power in Boston and gets involved in a money laundering scheme involving a professional jai alai league.  At times, it sounds too outlandish to be true but as far as my research shows, Black Mass gets the major facts correct.  Ultimately, Connolly's superiors become suspicious of his association with Bulger while Bulger's homicidal tendencies create plenty of enemies who are willing to turn state's evidence.

As usual, Depp disappears into the role with his balding pate and 1970s clothing.  However, Australian Joel Edgerton (The Square and Animal Kingdom) truly transforms himself physically and verbally by successfully affecting the Boston accent.  Benedict Cumberbatch has a nice turn as Whitey's younger brother & politician Billy Bulger.  Jesse Plemons is also memorable as a hardscrabble soldier in Whitey's Winter Hill Gang.

Black Mass is a solid film but now that it's been a month since seeing it, I have to admit that it wasn't particularly memorable or remarkable.

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