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Movie Night – 'Black Mass' is serious movie on serious people (Sept. 30, 2015)

Evil is real. It’s alive, and its name is James “Whitey” Bulger. The recently released film “Black Mass” is based upon the true story of the criminal life of Bulger.
Bulger (Johnny Depp) and John Connelly (Joel Edgerton) grew up together on the rough streets of South Boston. By the time the movie opens in 1975 Bulger is the head of the Irish Winter Hill Gang. Bulger controls almost all of the organized criminal activity in South Boston. He rules with an iron fist and a bullet to the head.
Connelly returns to Boston as a special agent in the FBI. His star is on the rise and he aims to clean up the organized crime in Boston. But he wants to do it his way. He approaches Bulger about becoming an FBI informant. At first, Bulger wants no part of it. He despises informants, kills rats with impunity.
But on second thought, Bulger sees an opportunity. He sees a way to use the FBI and take down his biggest rival, the Italian Mafia who control North Boston. The FBI agrees to leave the Winter Hill Gang alone in return for information on the Italians. The only conditions to the deal are that Bulger not commit any murders or deal drugs. Thus began one of the longest and most notorious informant relationships in the history of the FBI.
Despite the fact that Bulger gives the FBI very little actionable intelligence and despite the fact that the Winter Hill Gang continues to murder their enemies and control the drug trade in South Boston, Bulger remains a protected FBI informant due in large part to the fact that Connelly is a tireless advocate for Bulger. Connelly convinces the powers that be that Bulger is small potatoes when compared to the Italians.
Connelly and Bulger develop a questionable relationship. Is it two buddies from the old neighborhood teaming up for their own purposes, or the complicated relationship between a copy and his snitch? One thing is for certain, Whitey Bulger became the kingpin of crime in Boston and made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list because the FBI allowed it to happen.
The first thing that jumps out at you from the screen is the brutality and brazenness with which the Winter Hill Gang conducted their business. They regularly conducted business in broad daylight, a bullet to the back of the head before a burial under the bridge. The entire movie reflects this disregard for the sanctity of human life. “Black Mass” is filmed with a dark mood to match the hearts of the characters.
Johnny Depp is barely recognizable at Bulger. The receding hairline was distracting at first, but by the end of the movie it seemed to be a natural part of Depp. Regardless of his physical appearance, Depp was brilliant as the psychopath who ruled the streets of Boston. Depp played Bulger with a sense of barely controlled menace, with the feeling that violence could erupt at any moment.
It’s scary that such violent criminals not only exist, but seem to prosper. Still, possibly the most frightening aspect of the movie isn’t the criminals, but the fact that the FBI entered into an alliance with Bulger. It’s bad enough that organized crime exists, we certainly don’t need the FBI helping them by taking out their competition.
“Black Mass” is a serious movie about serious people. There are no light-hearted moments, or even any smiles. The film is gritty, violent, profane, and filled with drama. Given the subject matter, “Black Mass” earns its R rating.
Grade: B+
Rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use.