The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Based on a true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, an Irish Mob godfather and FBI informant who had a "secret trading" deal with his brother, William "Billy" Bulger, a state senator and a Boston public figure, and John Connolly, an FBI agent. They planned to take down the Italian mob and mafia in Boston, which went awry and things turned massively violent. When the credence for each other began fading out, drug dealing, murders, and extortion started to rise, and forced the FBI's Boston office to confirm that Whitey Bulger was one of the most notorious criminals in US history and also one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List criminals. Written by
The main meaning of the term "black mass" is a ritual in witchcraft or satanism that is an inversion of the Catholic Church's traditional Mass, for the purposes of evil instead of good. Nearly all of the criminals depicted in this movie (including the Irish mobsters, the Italian mafiosi with whom they were feuding, and FBI agent John Connolly, who was abetting Bulger) were Catholics, even though their murderous activities were in direct opposition to the values taught by the Catholic Church. The title is also a play on the color-themed nickname of its main character, and a nod to the corruption endemic to the city and state in which the story is set (since Mass. is an old-style postal abbreviation for Massachusetts). See more »
One report shown on screen refers to Newton High School. Newton, Massachusetts has had two high schools since 1960: Newton North and Newton South, although Newton High School was renamed Newton North High School in 1974. See more »
Before we start, I want you to kow something. I'm not a rat. You understand? I want that on record before we start.
DEA Agent Eric Olsen:
Okay. You are not a rat. And it's on record. Mr. Weeks, the charges against you, racketeering, extortion, kidnapping, and accomplice to murder, are very serious. Am I correct in stating that you are here today to make a deal with the federal government?
DEA Agent Eric Olsen:
And am I correct in stating that you are going from trusted confidant to one of South Boston's most ...
[...] See more »
As the actors are listed, pictures and footage of the real people they portrayed are shown. See more »
If Goodfellas is a gourmet patisserie then Black Mass is an airport Cinnabon
The intrigue of all crime movies relies on a simple idea: people are complex, but actions are not. Behind every reductive, one-word crime "murder," "theft," "extortion" is a human with a motive and a history to support that motive. Part of the reason we follow the stories of criminals is to overlay ourselves on their paths, trace the steps around their intentions, and see where they turn where you would not. Great crime stories give us the opportunity feel our own humanity guide us through darkness. Unfortunately, I felt nothing while watching Black Mass.
Heralded as a return to acting form for Johnny Depp, Black Mass tells the true-crime story of James "Whitey" Bulger, a mythologized, south-Boston crime lord who operated from the late 70's to early 90's. As an adaptation of the best-selling book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, the film portrays the key years of Bulger's ascent to power in the Boston crime world, during which he acted as an FBI-informant through slick FBI agent (and Southie homeboy) John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). At the behest of Connolly and his less enthusiastic boss Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon), Bulger provides information that precipitates the downfall of the Italian mob, allowing his own Winter Hill gang to take over all aspects of Boston crime, from the drug trade to money laundering, and everything in-between.
However, with such a compelling, cant-fail crime premise, the film is bafflingly hollow. Other than hearing a laundry list of crimes that Bulger supposedly spearheads, we almost never see any crimes being committed, other than the odd shotgun rampage or prostitute murder (both which felt sadly derivative for such gruesome scenes). Doors slam, money is exchanged, and men with furrowed brows walk hastily down empty alleysbut it never feels like we are made to understand why.
Where is the money coming from? What are Whitey's motivations? Who are the victims of these crimes, or rather, where are the commoners (for a film with such a large cast, it seems completely devoid of extras) of Boston at all? Even the undeniable Benedict Cumberbatch seems adrift and misused in his role as Whitey's state senator brother Billy Bulger.
Director Scott Cooper chose to focus only on a handful of key years during Whitey's reign of terror, perhaps to draw focus on his peak instead of wasting time on his rise or fall. Unfortunately, the result is a dubiously avowed criminal juggernaut who feelsand sometimes lookslike he is made out of paper. Much has been made of Depp's transformation into the balding, ghostly Bulger through the magic of makeup, prosthetics, and false teeth. He looks legitimately ghoulish throughout the film, yet the performance feels thin and insubstantial, perhaps less due to Depp's acting than to the camera's disinterest.
Depp does has his moments, especially in one particularly tense scene where he slinks out of the shadows to confront Connolly's untrusting wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), lurking over her like a pale, demonic shadow. During that scene, I felt like I was watching a horror movie. Afterwards, I could only lament the fact the rest of the movie didn't try harder to be a horror movie, or didn't try harder to be anything interesting at all.
Black Mass has the trappings of a great film with solid performances, beautifully lit shots, and a wealth of source materials, making its ultimate failure that much more disappointing. Crime stories are a staple of American cinema and we accept them for their inherent limitations. However, in 2015 it's simply unacceptable to approach the making of a crime movie with absolutely no creative spirit.
Several other reviews have likened Black Mass to a poor imitation of Goodfellas or other Scorsese films. If Goodfellas is the gourmet pâtisserie of crime movies, then Black Mass is an airport Cinnabon, a fluorescently lit sprawl of half baked, cookie-cutter crime characters we've all come to expecta dash of angry FBI chief here, a sprinkle of disgruntled mob grunt therewho delivered their lines and then seemingly evaporate into stale air. The movie runs over two excruciating hours yet fails to make plain the impact of the Bulger's crimes, resulting in a story which accomplishes the impossible feat of feeling both protracted and unfinished.
Scott Cooper strives to portray Whitey Bulger as the boogeyman, an unstoppable nightmare whose actions are made infinitely more terrifying by the knowledge that they exist in reality. Instead, Black Mass is the kind of dream that you forget the instant you wake up.
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