The Mafia Movie of 2015
By Emily Zoda
An advanced screening of “Black Mass,” followed by a Q&A session with Director-Producer Scott Cooper and other cast members was held at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on September 10.
The movie follows the chronological events of James “Whitey” Bulger’s (Johnny Depp) gang as they talk about what went on during the federal investigation of the killings and smuggling of guns and drugs in and out of South Boston—acts that made Bulger one of FBI’s ten most wanted. He was found guilty on charges of murder, federal racketeering, extortion, and conspiracy.
In the 70s, FBI agent John Connolly becomes a catalyst in Whitey’s efforts to bring down the Italian mafia in Boston. Whitey’s brother, William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), becomes a powerful Massachussetts Senator and lends him a helping hand.
Connolly was childhood friends with Whitey and Billy, and as an agent, led them into the takedown of the Italian mob after years of turf wars. He let the FBI take the Italian mob’s leader, leaving Whitey with a clean record and away from future federal trouble.
Whitey was known for his winter-white skin and piercing blue eyes, as described by accurate accounts, an appearance that suggests a darker, brooding character, which is the complete opposite of Depp’s usual fun characters such as Captain Jack Sparrow of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the Mad Hatter.
In the movie’s opening, you think he’s the worst that he can be, but he hasn’t quite snapped yet.
Character development was incredibly strong and creeped up on the faint of heart, like when Depp’s character stopped using firearms and choked his victims to death.
Producers Cooper and John Leshner even tried to contact the real James Bulger, who was caught in 2011 and currently is serving two consecutive life sentences in prison, to get a more in-depth analysis for Depp. Bulger wanted nothing to do with the film.
“I wanted to tell a story about humans who wanted to be criminals,” said Leshner. He wanted to present this in a flinching matter without romanticizing the victims and their unfortunate outcomes. They wanted to produce their version of a true story.
Edgerton sometimes struggled speaking with the people of Boston who claimed to see Bulger in person. He would often have to block out their perceptions of Bulger while preparing for his controversial role as Connolly.
“He [was] really distilled,” said Edgerton on Depp’s performance. “From what I heard Whitey…was a coiled snake.”
Julianne Nicholson believed her role as Connolly’s wife was encouraging to play because of the strong part she had in a masculine film such as “Black Mass.”
She said it was a great opportunity to play with the boys for once and it was “a thrill to get in there.”
As Whitey’s wife in the movie, Dakota Johnson said that Depp was a loving character towards his family until a pivotal moment in the film that coincided with the climax. “His energy blast through me,” said Johnson, who claimed to have never seen Depp without makeup on the set.
“Black Mass” felt far from the typical mafia movie with a predetermined soundtrack. With blood, guns, and watching people suffer at the hands of Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill gang, it’s more of a horror movie than a dramatization.