Make sure you don’t pop out for some popcorn at any point during the new Johnny Depp vehicle Black Mass, a brutal take on the reign of terror of the criminal, best known as Whitey Bulger. If you do, you’ll be hopelessly lost in the rapid-fire plot of this absorbing film of deepest noir.
Apparently James Bulger Jnr (Jimmy) doesn’t like being called ‘Whitey’, by the way, or so we keep being told on screen by his henchmen. The plot is based – almost unbelievably – on Jimmy’s true story and the man himself is currently incarcerated, after being convicted of a string of murders. Former associates gave evidence to the cops and Feds.
The inimitable Depp has made the part his own, in a character role, helped by a slicked back coiffure and a receding hairline. Beware, it’s a million miles from his prancing and preening Captain Sparrow. Bulger, the most notorious violent criminal in the history of South Boston, initially became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
And, given a pretty free run by the Feds, ‘Whitey’ enjoys the evil of his pure black heart . Depp as the Southie (South Boston) boy takes no prisoners in the role, preferring torture or a quick bullet in the back of the head for his victims, before they are dumped in the trunk of a car and buried unceremoniously. He’s also got establishment links as the brother of a smooth-talking state senator and family man – played with aplomb by Brit star Benedict Cumberbatch, with never an English vowel to be heard in his take on this political posturing.
One of the numerous people Bulger was found guilty of killing was John McIntyre, who died after informing the American authorities about a foiled gun running trip organised by Bulger’s Winter Hill gang, liaising with IRA man Joe Cahill. It was planned in Boston in 1984, when the crime boss wanted to do something ‘for the old country’ and was at a time when collecting boxes for ‘the boys’ were being shaken in many Southie bars.
A fishing boat called Valhalla was to sail from Massachusetts to rendezvous with an Irish boat, but two Irish navy vessels stopped the Marita Ann and arrested her crew. The Valhalla was later seized by US customs, back in Boston.The plot had been betrayed by a disenchanted IRA informant in the Republic.
McIntyre’s torture is one of the most brutal scenes in the movie. Black Mass is a hard watch, but sheds some light on a period of corruption and high-rolling crime in America. And with a round-up at the end of what happened to the real-life perps, it makes for compulsive viewing, but maybe not for a first date for the squeamish.
Review by Liz Kennedy
Black Mass (122 minutes) is a 15-certificate.