The film “Black Mass” is based on the true story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s climb from a low profile South Boston criminal to the notorious leader of the Irish gang Winter Hill, protected by the FBI for almost 20 years. This gangster biopic has an all-star cast with Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Peter Sarsgaard.
Captivatingly portrayed by Johnny Depp, Whitey Bulger is initially seen as a respected criminal by both his family and his neighborhood in South Boston, “Southie.” Benedict Cumberbatch portrays his brother William “Billy” Bulger who is a major player in the Massachusetts Senate. Whitey is chosen by the FBI to aid in their attempt to take down the Mafia invading South Boston. John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, is a childhood friend of the Bulgers as well as the FBI agent who comes up with the idea to strike an alliance with Whitey.
After the alliance is made, Whitey discovers a plan for his rise to the top. Following a series of tragedies within Whitey’s family, the transformation of Whitey begins to reveal itself as he becomes colder in character as seen though the ghostly images of Whitey as the years past.
Although Whitey was a childhood friend, Connolly initially only views their relationship as strictly business with Whitey as an informant and himself as the overseer. However, as Whitey starts to make staggering amounts of money through his different enterprises, Connolly sees an opportunity to both rise within rank and within himself. Julianne Nicholson plays Marianne Connolly, Connolly’s wife who first begins to notice the differences in what he wears and in his behavior.
Whitey and Connolly inversely influenced the each other’s character development while working together; as one character becomes more strategic, the other becomes more careless, leading to the eventual fall of Connolly in 1995 and Whitey in 2011.
“Black Mass” spans 20 years and is told through a series of statements made by people who worked for Whitey during his reign over Southie as they confess to the FBI for reduced sentences.
The contrast between the transformations of Connolly and Whitey shows that the desire for power can ultimately corrupt those with power. The director of the film is Scott Cooper, however the movie is stylized similar to a Martin Scorsese film with its portrayal of gang activity and over use of violence. The film feels slow at times, and rushed at others however by the final act of the film audience members will cringe at the unpredictability of Whitey Bulger’s actions. If you are a fan of the modern gangster classics such as Good Fellas and Donnie Brasco, this film is a highly recommended must see.
Jorge Chabo is a freshman majoring in Economics BA. He’s from Miami, heavily into politics, and enjoys going to the movies.
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