by: PAMELA GANDY/ Entertainment Editor
Loan sharking, extortion and murder are just a few of the crimes committed by professional outlaw, James “Whitey” Bulger.
Johnny Depp plays the role of one of the nation’s most notorious gangsters in the new film, “Black Mass.”
The story is told by former gangsters who were involved in crimes alongside Bulger. They have been taken into custody by the FBI, and are recounting the crimes that Bulger had committed through the years in order to receive a lesser sentence themselves.
They are followed by a few other men who also have known Bulger since he was a child. “Whitey” and his friends are known as the Winter Hill Gang. Crime in north Boston is overrun by the Italian Mob, so the Winter Hill Gang tended to keep their business on the south side of the city.
“Whitey” also has connections in high places. His brother, Bill Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), is the president of the Massachusetts Senate. And despite their very different professions, the brothers are still very close.
In addition to being a gangster, “Whitey” also is a family man who is very close to his mother, his girlfriend and son.
In one scene, “Whitey”, his girlfriend Lindsey Cyr (Dakota Johnson) and their son Douglas (Luke Ryan) are having dinner at the table, much like a typical family. Douglas tells his parents about his day at school.
“Whitey” is depicted as a loving father, despite his career.
What really helped elevate Bulger’s criminal career was his relationship with the FBI, specifically John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Connolly is an FBI agent who is eager to take down the Italian mob. He also grew up with Bulger in South Boston. Connolly contacts Bulger to inform him that the FBI is aware of his criminal activity, and they are beginning to form a case against him.
However, Connolly believes that the Italian mob in North Boston is the bureau’s bigger priority. Connolly persuades Bulger to become an informant and provide them with information on the Italian criminals. In exchange, Connolly agrees to provide Bulger with information about the evidence being compiled against him. He will also try to protect Bulger by diverting the bureau’s attention away from him.
This is the beginning of a corrupt alliance. Initially, the Bulger-Connolly alliance is beneficial. Bulger provides information to the FBI about where the Italian mob’s headquarters are. This leads to the arrest of several mafia criminals. However, with the Italian mob weakened, The Winter Hill Gang expands their business to the rest of Boston.
Shortly after the alliance is formed, Douglas becomes ill. What his mother believes is the flu turns out to be Reye’s syndrome. “Whitey” is devastated. He and Lindsey have an argument at the hospital about whether they should remove Douglas from life support. “Whitey” is unable to let go of his son, while Douglas’s mother does not want him to suffer. Douglas passes away, and his father returns to his criminal activity with a new level of anger.
“Whitey” continues to dominate Boston crime. Alongside fellow Winter Hill Gang members, Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons) and Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), he expands his business to other major cities. He becomes heavily involved in corrupt business investments in Miami. The FBI is still aware of his activity, but Connolly persuades them that Bulger’s contributions to their case against the Italian mafia are more important than the “small time” crimes he commits.
However, a new attorney begins working for the FBI. Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll) is determined to hold Bulger responsible for his crimes. Tensions rise between Wyshak and Connolly regarding whether Bulger’s value as an informant is more important than the crimes that he commits. Connolly is still on Bulger’s payroll and has gradually become more involved in Bulger’s crimes.
By this time, Connolly is viewed as a corrupt agent. Wyshak and the rest of the FBI are working around him to compile evidence against Bulger. The FBI arrests Connolly for racketeering, obstruction of justice, and second-degree murder.
“Whitey” disappears before he can be arrested. He is not found until 17 years later. The movie ends with photos of “Whitey” and the Winter Hill Gang, along with descriptions of their crimes and sentences.
Depp’s talent for playing darker characters was really highlighted in “Black Mass.” This was his best performance yet. Many critics have predicted that Depp will receive a nomination for an Academy Award for his performance in this movie. I certainly believe that he is deserving of a nomination, because he really captured both sides of Bulger’s character, the caring family man, as well as the violent criminal. I think Depp’s acting really made this movie great.
Anyone who appreciates great acting, as well as anyone who likes crime movies, would really enjoy “Black Mass.” It balances violence and crime with human nature, creating a really interesting story.
This movie was everything I had hoped it would be. It told the story of “Whitey” and The Winter Hill Gang and their elevation to powerful professional criminals, as well as the corruption of the FBI, in a captivating and entertaining way. I give “Black Mass” five out of five stars.