‘Black Mass’: an insight into the corruption of Whitey Bulger

By Kate Joseph
Staff Writer

In the nearly 400 years since Boston was founded, innumerable legends have solidified this East Coast city’s cultural significance. From revolutionary hero Paul Revere to President John F. Kennedy to all-star quarterback Tom Brady, there’s a plethora of well-known people from Bean Town.

Perhaps the most sinister among these big names is one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives ever, James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious crime lord and murderer from South Boston.

Bulger was viciously powerful from 1975 until 1995, when he fled Boston and laid low for over 15 years before being arrested and arraigned in 2011. He is currently serving two life sentences plus five years.

Though Bulger’s heinous crimes certainly shouldn’t afford him high esteem among Boston citizens, or anyone anywhere, “Black Mass,” a biopic on the criminal, gives a deeper look into the life of the infamous felon.

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger
“Black Mass” features Johnny Depp as James “Whitey” Bulger, the South Boston murderer. (Photo from FlickeringMyth.com)

The film’s trailer was an early indicator that it would highlight Bulger’s notoriety as a rebel, elevating him to near rock star status. But the movie is another story entirely.

Aside from some much-needed dark humor, which adds punch, the film is a serious and accurate look inside Bulger’s (Johnny Depp) life and how he got away with his mobster crimes for decades thanks to his allegiance with corrupt FBI agents John Connolly and John Morris (Joel Edgerton and David Harbour).

Bulger’s personal life is also highlighted, and he comes off as the least cold when around his beloved mother, brother (Benedict Cumberbatch), girlfriend (Dakota Johnson), and young son.

Cumberbatch’s time on screen is some of the most puzzling in the film. Though the British actor gives a decent performance, his dreadful Boston accent is cringe-worthy and overshadows scenes containing information essential to the plot.

However, nearly everyone else in the film is outstanding. A supporting cast made up of television regulars like Jessie Plemons from “Breaking Bad” and Adam Scott from “Parks and Recreation” supplements the movie well. Plus, despite only appearing in a few scenes, Johnson’s Lindsey Cyr is both emotional and cold in a way that contrasts perfectly with Depp.

Depp and Edgerton give the most stellar performances of film, providing depth and emotion to extraordinarily cold characters.

With “Black Mass,” Bulger has easily made his way on to Depp’s roster of unique characters that continue to make him the most distinguishable actor on screen today.

Also exemplary is the sharp and beautiful cinematography, which is impressive with a film that depicts such grimy crimes in a cloudy city. Several murders are shown on screen, including shootings and multiple stranglings, all of which are tough to watch but impossible to look away from because they are shot exquisitely.

It may not rack up as many Oscars as anticipated, but “Black Mass” is a must-see thriller, especially for Boston residents who crave a good crime story.