Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Black Mass

Year 9, Day 94 - 4/4/17 - Movie #2,588

BEFORE: I grew up about a half-hour outside of Boston, in the suburbs, in the 1970's and 80's, but I didn't hear about Whitey Bulger until after I'd moved away to college in New York, and my father started relating the local gossip about him to me some time in the mid-1990's.  So I feel like I've got some background, and I've truly been looking forward to this one - I'll probably end up bringing it with me the next time I visit my parents, so my Dad can weigh in on this film as well.

Two actors carry over from "Midnight Special" - Joel Edgerton and Bill Camp.


THE PLOT: 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.

AFTER: If this film reminds you in some way of "The Departed", you're not wrong.  Although that film was technically a remake of a Hong Kong film named "Infernal Affairs", Scorcese worked in a fair amount of Whitey Bulger's story into Jack Nicholson's character.   And Matt Damon's character, the criminal planted within the Boston police, bears a resemblance to John Connolly, who worked for the FBI but grew up as Bulger's childhood friend.

In real life, of course we now know that Connolly's presence on the FBI was probably the thing that allowed Bulger to build his criminal empire - wondering whether the FBI guy pretended to bring Bulger in as an informant or whether Bulger placed Connolly there as a mole is sort of a chicken/egg kind of thing, I suppose.  And the fact that Whitey's brother Billy was a state senator probably didn't hurt either.  At first, it doesn't track that Bulger would give any information to the FBI, because of how he felt about "rats", but if it was done to keep the heat off of him, and also take down the Italian crime family in Boston, maybe that does make a bit of sense.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or at least someone I can pretend to work with.

But the high-profile nature of Bulger as a news story doesn't mean that it will necessarily make for a great film - in fact, the story gets very repetitive early, and never changes.  Bulger commits crimes, Connolly covers them up, Bulger gives up a speck of information about the Italians, Connolly points out to his bosses how valuable the relationship is.  Repeat as necessary with each new boss at the FBI, and this went on for decades.  Eventually someone realized that every time Connolly was told the name or location of a guy willing to testify against Whitey, that guy usually turned up dead soon after.

The only attempt made to humanize Bulger was to show him with his girlfriend and son, and his reactions when his son got sick.  But there's only so much you can do to tone down the psycho, because you really don't want the audience rooting for him.  I noticed they left out any mention of his second common-law wife who went on the lam with him, or any of his other girlfriends.  The film makes it seem like he just went traveling around the world by himself, and that's not true.  But the FBI finally caught up with Bulger in Santa Monica in 2011, and he's currently serving two life sentences (plus five years) in prison.  Whoops, sorry, spoiler alert.

Also starring Johnny Depp (last seen in "Transcendence"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last heard in "The Penguins of Madagascar"), Dakota Johnson (last seen in "How to Be Single"), Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Starting Over"), Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "K-19: The Widowmaker"), Jesse Plemons (last seen in "Shrink"), Rory Cochrane (last seen in "Argo"), David Harbour (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Adam Scott (last seen in "Sleeping With Other People"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "Café Society"), Julianne Nicholson (last seen in "August: Osage County"), W. Earl Brown (last seen in "Wild"), Juno Temple (last seen in "Maleficent"), Mark Mahoney, Brad Carter, Scott Anderson, Erica McDermott (last seen in "Joy"), Luke Ryan, Owen Burke (last seen in "The Forger"), David DeBack, Jamie Donnelly, Patrick M. Walsh.

RATING: 5 out of 10 surveillance photos

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