(MA15+) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
“Doing a deal with the devil.” That saying could have been the title for this true life story about James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) and John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Two men who grew up on the streets of South Boston and chose different paths in life, one of crime and one of law enforcement. Black Mass travels through four decades of their lives, where Connolly is a leading investigator in the FBI’s Boston branch and Whitey is the leader of the Irish Mob in South Boston. Due to their neighbourhood history on the streets, they re-connect and make a deal that gives the FBI access to information. This lead to the arrests of leading crime figures, who are enemies of Bulger’s gang. The FBI’s arrangement with Bulger has an adverse effect — allowing him to grow his criminal empire without any repercussions. The FBI comes to realise that this deal only benefits Bulger and his gang, leading to the downfall of all who are connected with this Irish-American crime lord.
Historically, the term “Black Mass” has its religious origins in rituals that celebrate the devil and the dead. Whitey Bulger embodies both of these elements through his interpretation of morality and the outcome for anyone who gets in his way. Johnny Depp provides the explosive and brooding elements needed to deliver a convincing performance as the Bostonian gangster. Proving that he still has the ability to deliver excellent acting performances that do not require a pirate hat.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) surrounds Depp with a stellar cast that has the intensity to propel this biographical journey to it’s hellish end. Joel Edgerton plays the self-promoting FBI agent convincingly and shows what it costs to cross the line of loyalty of friends and moral convictions. The laundry list of supporting players goes on and on, but all provide the needed components to help Cooper traverse through four decades of criminal activity. He connects most of the characters through a series of interviews with those who are, in the end, willing to give Whitey Bulger up.
The script, actors and portrayal of the various decades were well directed, but the challenge comes from enjoying the story being played out on the screen. At the beginning of Black Mass, humorous moments added some light to this dark tale. But the remainder was a continual downward spiral into the abyss that represents the world of Whitey Bulger.
Black Mass is a fascinating, but macabre part of Boston’s folklore that translates well to film. But it is not an enjoyable experience.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Loyalty is both fascinating and confusing. It is defined as being faithful to something on someone. People will put their money, careers and lives on the line for the sake of loyalty to family, friends or countries. In Black Mass, most of the characters lose their lives or livelihood because of loyalty to one man. It begs the question: why do we choose to be loyal or faithful to someone? It seems to be rooted in wanting to place an implicit trust in the person we put our faith in, and then knowing that this loyalty will be reciprocated.
The Bible plies a deeper meaning to the idea of loyalty. What can be seen is that God is the only one who is completely faithful. He is faithful even when his followers are faithless. The thing to consider is that with mankind, loyalty can be fleeting. But with God, we can find real loyalty and someone who is true to their word.
- Is lying ever justified in life? (Proverbs 19:9, Psalm 101:7)
- Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
- Is revenge ever justified? (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 3:9)
Leaving the cinema…
Johnny Depp and the cast were well directed. The central character lacks any moral centre which leads to a hyper-violent film with excessive language. It is a realistic historical account of South Boston, but is not recommended for families or those with weak constitutions.