Director Scott Cooper takes on the most notorious gangster in U.S. history with Johnny Depp’s haunting performance as South Boston’s own James “Whitey” Bulger. Black Mass, based on the book by the Boston Globe’s Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, breaks down the underground world of the Winter Hill Gang all the way up to the FBI, resulting in what is known as the Unholy Alliance.
The idea and intent of this movie was not to glorify Bulger; in fact, it shows a very grim depiction of (what the Boston Globe refers to him as) the “Satan from Southie.” The purpose of the movie truly lies not only in enlightening the audience of Bulger’s crimes (though very present), but also the shocking alliance he would have with the FBI’s John Connelly. This relationship resulted in a further crime spree stretching over 10 years that ended with Whitey serving two life sentences in prison.
Joel Edgarton acts as John Connelly, the crooked special agent from the FBI, who calls on an old friend from the playground to help bring down the Italian mob in Boston during the 80s. Edgarton gives a lights-out performance as a hungry and desperate Connelly looking for any way to climb the ranks of the FBI from his old neighborhood in South Boston. He starts with making a top echelon informant out of one of the most dangerous gangsters in history.
We know how the story ends. We have watched the news and read the paper. This could lead to an anticlimactic ending for any movie. However, in this case, just because we know the ending does not mean we know the story. Lies, crimes and blood-thirsty killers give us insight into Whitey’s infamous rise to the top of the gang world, along with his relationship with the FBI. Bulger’s partnership with Connelly shows Bulger clearly taking advantage of Connelly’s childhood admiration of him and using it as a justification to commit heinous crimes on the streets of Boston. These blood-chilling scenes are found in Depp’s true form of character acting, which, in this case, is acting without a heart. Depp brings creepy and sadistic to a new level, leaving us awestruck of and sympathetic to anyone who ever crossed paths with Whitey Bulger.
Perhaps more fascinating than the Whitey-Connelly relationship is the Whitey-Billy relationship. Billy Bulger, Whitey’s younger brother, was the president of the Massachusetts State Senate. This clearly shows the contrast of nature versus nurture and how the clean cut Billy worked to keep his affairs out of the affairs of his big brother, despite Connelly ‘s hardwork to bring him into the operation. Billy is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who perfectly compliments Depp in almost every way as a sensible, hardworking family man. Depp and Cumberbatch subtly reveal the quiet love between brothers that would lead to a disgraceful end for both of them.
To some, this movie may glorify a murderer, but what it really does is expose an unbelievable breach in government and portray crime in a way that makes it unclear who the bad guys are. Scott Cooper found the essence of what it was to belong to this community and what blind trust looks like from the outside. A Black Mass is a ritual in which Satan is worshipped. This movie does not worship the “Satan of Southie,” but it certainly shows the people who did.