‘Black Mass’ Isn’t A Gangster’s Paradise With Johnny Depp And Benedict …

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Black Mass’ movie review: An absorbing film lacking emotional core.

Black Mass, based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, tells the story of Bulger’s rise from South Boston thug to crime lord — a move he completed with the help of the FBI in the late 1970s. Victims of the murderous Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger have expressed disgust and horror at comments made by Johnny Depp at a premiere of the biopic Black Mass, in which the actor talked about its subject’s potential for kindness and humanity.Covering the events between 1975 and 1992, Black Mass is essentially about FBI’s arrangement with Bulger that was only used by the latter to further his criminal run.“Southie kids went from playing cops and robbers in the playground to doing it for real on the streets,” says Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), “and like on the playground sometimes it was hard to tell who was who.” It’s not that hard, really.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Director: Scott Cooper What I like about Johnny Depp is that, with every act of his, he transcends as an actor. When the movie opens, Bulger is a small-time crime boss, beloved in his neighborhood, but getting squeezed out by the Italian Mafia that’s taken over the North End.

Speaking on the red carpet at Boston’s Coolidge Corner theatre, where Scott Cooper’s Oscar-tipped crime drama had its US premiere on 15 September, Depp said Bulger inhabited a world of violence, but also had a softer side to him. “There’s a kind heart in there,” he said. “There’s a cold heart in there. The film opens in the US this weekend and Depp’s performance has already been tipped for an Oscar nod, but does the Boston in the film accurately portray the city and culture Bulger knew? He surprises you by eerily getting into the skin of the character with his demeanour and various unconventional get-ups and makes you believe that he is the character he plays.

His childhood friend, an FBI agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), gets the idea to align himself with the man he grew up with: Bulger will become an FBI informant, feeding the Bureau information so they can take down the Mafia, and in return, the FBI will look the other way when it comes to Bulger’s own activities. While his younger brother William served as president of the Massachusetts Senate, James (referred to as Whitey, although he disliked the nickname) ran the Winter Hill Gang, an especially vicious enterprise in a business not known for delicacy. It’s a dicey proposition for both the FBI and Bulger, but Connolly talks both sides into it, and soon Bulger finds himself knocking out his competitors and spreading his criminal operation across the country.

As James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, the most ferocious gangster in South Boston once, he is cruel and merciless, without the now-overbearing tics or mannerisms. Will some of its themes and formulations be familiar to moviegoers who have watched their share of mob cinema and of films set on the South Side of Boston? But with Bulger’s growing power comes increased audacity and recklessness, and it soon becomes clear to Connolly’s higher-ups that Bulger may be more dangerous than the people he helped bring down in the first place. There’s a lot to the man.” Bill St Croix, whose sister Deborah Hussey was strangled by Bulger in 1985, told the Boston Globe: “I wonder how Johnny Depp would feel if his sister got strangled and buried in the basement with two other corpses? Black Mass itself is neither, never really shedding its tone of slightly breathless awe even when all available evidence shows Bulger as nothing but a violent thug.

He was a government informer who meted out lethal punishment to suspected rats; a remorseless killer viewed as a folk hero by some of his fellow citizens; a sentimental son of South Boston who brought drugs into his own neighborhood, and his story all but begs for a movie. His performance as Bulger, the chilling, psychopathic monster lording over the Boston underworld through intimidation and violence, is his best and most understated in years.

Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), steers the story with confidence, filling it with beautiful compositions and methodical camera moves. On a personal level, he is kind to elderly women, a devoted son to his old mother, a loving father to his young son, and a warm brother to his Senator sibling.

He was, in the words of FBI agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) a “ripened psychopath.” “Black Mass” is a gangster thriller in the same vein as ”Goodfellas.” It follows a familiar pattern, the rise and fall and eventual ratting out of a crime boss, but provides more than enough underworld intrigue to keep things interesting. He takes a fair share of stylistic cues from Martin Scorsese, including multiple storytelling points of view that make the film feel like a second cousin to Goodfellas or Casino.

That was a very stupid, insensitive comment.” Depp also told the Associated Press in comments published earlier this week that part of him was pleased Bulger, 86, who is serving a life sentence for his part in 11 murders, had escaped justice for so long. The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s remake of a classic Hong Kong crime film, incorporates aspects of the Whitey Bulger legend. “Whitey,” Joe Berlinger’s solid documentary, looks squarely in the faces of his victims and their families, dispelling some of the aura of gangster romance that always seems to surround white ethnic practitioners of organized crime.

Depp is all coiled menace, a dark-eyed malevolent force capable of helping an old neighbourhood woman with her groceries one moment and killing an old friend the next. The gangster fled Boston for a new life in Santa Monica, California, in 1995 after being tipped off by a corrupt FBI agent that he was about to be arrested, and was not caught until 2011. “No disrespect to any victims or families of victims, but there was some element for me that was kind of glad that he got away,” Depp was quoted as saying. “For 16 years he was on the lam and he wasn’t causing any trouble.

He’s unpredictable in the most predictable of ways, but Depp makes sure that Bulger isn’t just an echo of Michael Corleone or Tony Montana by giving him some tender moments with his family, son, mother and brother. His John Connolly is a man who can’t come to grips with who he is or even wants to be, putting on airs of false confidence and bravado to convince his wife, bosses, and colleagues of his sincerity and innocence — constantly spinning plates until the Bulger investigation brings everything crashing down. But the conventions of popular culture, conventions to which Cooper hews with slavish or perhaps unthinking devotion, treat those things with a certain reverence.

For many, the real saga centers on the FBI’s use of criminals as informants, and the shadowy figures who preserved Bulger’s relationship with the bureau for all those years. Earl Brown, Jesse Plemons and Scott Anderson as Whitey’s inner-circle boys, Peter Sarsgaard as a drug-dealer businessman who has the misfortune of ending up on Whitey’s bad side, David Harbour, Adam Scott and Kevic Bacon as the Federal Agents and Corey Stoll as the federal prosecutor determined to nail Whitey. Bulger is onscreen in nearly every scene, and the actor reveals a savagery and intensity we haven’t seen from him before — at least not like this.

How can you have compassion for that person, knowing what he’s done?” But another of Deborah Hussey’s brothers, Stephen Hussey, said after attending the premiere that the movie had not glorified Bulger. “I think it portrayed him as an evil psychopath,” he told the newspaper. As Bulger describes it to one of his men: “It’s a business opportunity: to get the FBI to fight our wars against our enemies, while they protect us and we do whatever the fuck we want.” The only catch, Connolly stresses, is that Bulger can’t kill anyone. The screenplay by writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, narrates Whitey’s story in a non-linear fashion, from 1975 in the form of testimonies from Whitey’s associates, after the gang has been disintegrated. Boston lawyer, JW Carney Jr, who represented Bulger at the mobster’s 2013 trial, praised Depp for offering “a riveting portrayal” of his subject. “The limitations of time allowed only glimpses of Jim Bulger’s other qualities, especially his intelligence, wit and ability to truly love someone,” Carney told the Globe. “When Johnny stared at the audience with his ice-blue eyes during certain scenes, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Unlike the book Black Mass, where the journalists are the heroes, the film is narrated by former mobster Kevin Weeks as he’s giving information to the feds. What makes the narration appealing is that it directly plunges to the present day without getting into Whitey’s back story or the reason of his incitement into the underworld.

It’s a glorious contrast to the cackling madmen caricatures that have become his stock in trade, and it shows there’s an entirely different type of character he can tackle if he wants to. As Bulger grows stronger, Connolly and his partner (David Harbour) find themselves ever more deeply enmeshed, to the point that they are working more for the crime lord than for the FBI: doctoring records and tipping him off to threats from other agencies and their own informants, more than one of whom wind up dead.

I have seen Goodfellas and the Godfather movies more times than I can count, and I’m as susceptible as any other deskbound, conflict-averse fantasist to the visceral appeal of a good gangster movie. As the assorted bad guys and crooked FBI agents Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Peter Sarsgaard bring the scuzz, but while this is a very male movie, there are three solid performances from the female cast. While the script tries to give us a panoramic view of the South Boston criminal underworld, it struggles to find something new to say about organised crime and the loyalty between these men.

It is a grim and grisly ride, and over its course Bulger is revealed to be a genuine psychopath. (It is perhaps worth noting here that while serving an earlier prison sentence, Bulger participated in the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, receiving dozens of doses of LSD and other drugs, which he described as taking him to the “depths of insanity.”) The role is Depp’s best in many years, and a welcome respite from the parade of prancing pseudo-villains—Mortdecai, the Wolf, Barnabas Collins, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka—to which he has devoted far too much of his career. As Connolly’s wife Julianne Nicholson brings the right amount of scepticism about being airlifted into a world she doesn’t understand and Juno Temple is heartbreaking as a street waif who makes the mistake of trusting Whitey. Overall, Scott Cooper’s direction results in a well-made and absorbing film, inundated with appropriate menace, but lacks the emotional core and sociological angle. Ashen-faced, with a rotting tooth and deathly blue eyes (accomplished by means of remarkable, hand-painted contacts), he looms and whispers like a Beantown Beelzebub.

And if there are occasional echoes in his performance of Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, and Nicholson (whose mob boss in The Departed was based in part on Bulger), they may be unavoidable, and are in any case welcome. The supporting cast—featuring Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, and Adam Scott—is exceptionally strong. Depp and Cooper clearly put plenty of work into fully realizing Bulger on screen, but they leave it to the audience to find the broader meaning in his story.

The contradiction between this apparent soft side and his general disregard for human life feels less like an insight than like boilerplate, a cliché to set alongside the splattering of brains against car-window glass, the surprise whackings of guys who thought they were on their way to whack other guys, and the invocations of loyalty. His willingness to transform himself is fearless and brilliant when in service of character, but it’s hard to find any rhyme or reason to his career choices beyond the bizarre inclinations of an eccentric superstar (see: Mortdecai), a public-facing role Depp seems all too happy to play.

Plemons’s face—the first we see in the film—is an especially evocative map of accumulated thuggery, the kind of visage Matt Damon’s might resemble if you dropped him head-first down a well and left him there for a month. The terrifying steeliness in Bulger’s voice and the way he looms over a soon-to-be victim aren’t the result of something he wears; they’re the work of an actor painstakingly modifying his gait, inflections, vocal cadence, and stance. In a nice touch, he uses the latter-day testimony of Bulger’s old partners as an effective narrative device: the feeble revenge of underlings grizzled, used, arrested, utterly spent. I say this as a former resident of both cities and a longtime fan of the letter R.) The episodic narrative is framed by testimony from some of Jimmy’s former underlings, who turned on him when a new prosecutor (Corey Stoll) came to town. Earl Brown as the slow-moving hit man John Martorano are all credibly gamy and mean, and the matter-of-factness of their testimony is the best, most honest part of the movie.

In the 2014 documentary about Bulger’s trial, Whitey: United States of America v James J Bulger, by Joe Berlinger, Donahue stated that: “Whitey pulled the trigger, but I blame the FBI too, they knew what was going to happen.” According to Whitey, he was never an informant; the FBI, he claims, worked for him. “I was the guy who did the directing. We’re in historically masculine genre territory, of course, but this movie’s collection of mothers, wives and mistresses is especially threadbare. Moreover, there are two particular scenes—one recalling Pesci’s “What do you mean I’m funny?” speech in Goodfellas and another reminiscent of Pacino’s baptismal bloodletting in The Godfather—that are too specific in their homage, and serve only to summon unflattering comparisons. Bulger says Jeremiah O’Sullivan, a federal prosecutor and chief of the criminal division when Bulger was still at large, gave him a license to kill. With: Johnny Depp (James “Whitey” Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Rory Cochrane (Steve Flemmi), Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks), David Harbour (John Morris), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Julianne Nicholson (Marianne Connolly), Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire), Corey Stoll (Fred Wyshak), Peter Sarsgaard (Brian Halloran), Adam Scott (Robert Fitzpatrick), W.

Wolf found that the FBI had in fact given Flemmi partial immunity, though this was later overturned since the appeals court ruled that only prosecutors have the power to grant immunity. And Wolf concluded: “The FBI’s relationship with Bulger and Flemmi was not an isolated, aberrant occurrence.” It might be tricky to bring up immunity arguments in a movie that doesn’t depict the trials. Unlike a courtroom, the filmmakers did not have to yield to rules about admissibility – which was why it was so depressing that the scene where Halloran pleads to get protection after spilling the beans on Bulger is cut short.

A scene like that would have made Black Mass more than a gangster film, it would have given a national audience a glimpse into the saga that haunts Bostonians to this day.

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