Black Mass: an excellent film with a stunning cast that mesmerizes as the viewer witnesses one blatant crime after another. It’s instructive in showing how a particular attachment formed in childhood renders the adult myopic in relation to someone who was his “savior” at a critical time. I learned (from Wikipedia) that the title “Black Mass” is a metaphor for an unholy alliance, which I presume refers here to the FBI’s (particularly agent Connolly’s) alliance with a major criminal as an “informant.”
Director Scott Cooper and the whole team deserve applause for just about every aspect of filmmaking: The script (Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, screenplay; Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, book); the acting, particularly Depp, Edgerton, Cumberbatch, Bacon, Sarsgaard; makeup so well done I hardly recognized Depp; and cinematography (Masanobu Takayanagi) in artistic use of the camera. The pacing made the film move in the best of storytelling technique. Being unaware of the wealth of data about Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger’ criminal career, I expected much to be made of his years of escape, but the filmmakers made a wise choice in restricting most of the film to his criminal behavior and the FBI’s unwitting cooperation. It was more than enough to fill a two-hour time slot.
Black Mass serves as a study of personality and character; how people coming out of South Boston have developed a keen sense of loyalty, how one person goes in a criminal direction, another to political office, and still another to law enforcement. Their background binds them together in a fascinating way. Bulger is especially well fleshed out, so that we get a comprehensive picture of the complexities of his makeup (e.g., strict religious values in some areas, no conscience in others, and the knowledge and ability to use politeness and the concept of loyalty in evil intentions).
The social commentary raises the question of how much one can change after coming from a humble background, at least one that makes moral compromise a part of everyday life, for which, I think, South Boston has a reputation. This is seen in the Cumberbatch figure—Whitey Bulger’s brother—who apparently acquired a veneer of uprightness which brought him a political office and later a university presidency. But when he had to make a compromise by communicating with his brother on the FBI’s most wanted list, he had to give up the presidency.
I went reluctantly to the screening of Black Mass (I had seen the television documentary of Bulger’s capture), but was gratifyingly surprised by the substance of the film in terms of criminal behavior and the informed, comprehensive view of humans at their best and worst.
Go to Black Mass for its perceptive insight and understanding of human behavior.