Despite the title, this movie has nothing to do with anything black or even going to Mass. It does, however, have everything to do with that chameleon of an actor, Johnny Depp, who again completely immerses himself into a role that you hardly recognize him. Move over, Jack Sparrow, “Whitey” Bulger’s in town!
Based on a true story, crime lord Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger is a real piece of work and dangerously psychotic if crossed. Told through narration and testimony by Jimmy’s old gangster co-horts, we learn of the people in Bulger’s life. There’s his older brother and State Senator Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch with a Bostonian accent) and Jimmy’s life-long BFF, FBI agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton). In South Boston, the Angiulo’s (the Mafia crime family) runs the city, and the FBI would do anything to stop them, even making a deal with the devil. . .that being Bulger and his local small-time crime syndicate. Jimmy agrees to be an informant for the FBI on the Angiulo family IF they agree to “overlook” his crime activity AND he’ll will only talk to agent Connelly as his liaison.
Untouched from the law, Bulger continues his reign of killing, running drugs, numbers, and racketeering with his crazy friends, Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons) and hitman Stephen Flemmi (Rory Cochrane). And all this happens with the consent of the FBI because they get occasional intel on the other crime families. Finally, FBI director McGuire (Kevin Bacon) wants the Angiulo family brought down, and with that done, Bulger is made the #1 crime lord in all of South Boston. The years roll on by with Bulger and Connelly forming a sort of partnership, giving each other info and favors, as the body count and the drug money starts to skyrocket.
But, in 1996, a new hard-nosed FBI director comes in, and all bets are off. Bulger becomes the prime target of the FBI’s most wanted list and arrests are made, testimonies are taken, and Bulger escapes into the night. Eventually, Jimmy is caught in 2011 in Santa Monica and is now serving two consecutive life terms in prison. BTW, he did NOT want to help make this movie in any way.
Based on a 2001 book by Boston journalists Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil, the screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mallouk is spotty at best. Told in stops and starts, it never really finds a foothold as the story jumps around in Bulger’s episodic life. Some scenes are long and drawn out, others are exciting and captivating. Apparently, the writers and director Scott Cooper saw Goodfellas, Casino, The Godfather, and A Bronx Tale as many of the scenes seem very familiar in tone and style.
But even with all the unevenness, the performances here are wonderful. Both Aussie Edgerton and Brit Cumberbatch do great Boston accents and are very good here, but it’s Depp who redeems himself from his last fiasco’s (Transcendence and Mordecai) with a scary good Oscar worthy showing here. He gives a loose cannon/psycho performance here that’s especially noticeable in a brilliant dinner scene when he asks about steak’s secret flavoring and very reminiscent to Pesci’s “You think I’m funny?” scene in Goodfellas.
As in all ‘based on a true story’ movies, the real story is SO much more interesting than the movie’s version. Do yourself a favor and read up on Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, as I did, and find out more about this lunatic and his life as a career criminal. It’s far more fascinating than this movie.
White Heat (1949)
“Made it, Ma!! Top of the world!” You can’t say that quote and not think of this terrific gangster noir movie starring the amazing James Cagney as the psychotic Arthur “Cody” Jarrett. A film deemed “historically important” by the National Film Registry, this movie has it all: gangsters, shoot-outs, gorgeous dames, and an Oedipus-dominated madman that you DO NOT want to cross!