Black Mass: The Good Bad Johnny Depp

Black Mass: The Good Bad Johnny Depp

Lauren PesinMonday,21 September 2015

I grew up a mere four New England small towns and twenty-minutes away from “Southie,” where a majority of the “Black Mass” story takes place.  “Southie” is a highly populated neighborhood located in South Boston, MA, historically inhabited by Irish immigrants and unfortunately associated with the now famous former crime boss and now aging prisoner, James (Jimmy) “Whitey” Bulger.

Being Irish myself and growing up close to Boston, I grew up understanding the deep divide between the Irish and the Italians in Massachusetts. Even though I was removed and had no understanding of how that played out on streets between the Irish mob and the Italian mafia, most of my Irish and Italian friends who resided in and on the outskirts of Boston often joked about the rift and the code of silence on the streets of Southie. Therefore, when news of Whitey as an FBI informant against the Italian mafia broke it was no shocker.

I grew up hearing about the Irish Mob, The Winter Hill gang, and Whitey Bulger. I met Whitey’s brother (Billy Bulger) a few times in the early nineties. The times I met Billy, he was the President of the Massachusetts State Senate and then the President of my alma mater UMass. I even shook his hand and watched him speak to a crowd of hundreds on the Massachusetts Senate floor.

Even before I read it in “Black Mass: The Irish Mob, The FBI and A Devils Deal,” I heard the saying: “you had two choices in Southie, you either became a cop or a criminal.” Subsequently, it didn’t seem odd to me that a crime boss and a State Senator were brothers. Although not odd to me, it does make for a good story.

As I read about the brutality and the violence in the book, “Black Mass,” I knew the places. The mention (in the book) and the scenes (in the movie) of a familiar Dunkin’ Donuts, of buried bodies in the Neponset River, and meetings and stakeouts at the Pier 4 and Top of the Hub restaurants, and also the Triple O’s bar makes the story all the more frightening to me. These awful crimes occurred in my childhood backyard.

Going into the movie I hoped Johnny Depp would reveal his true craft of acting and not ruin the movie with an over-the-top and ridiculous adaptation (see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Alice in Wonderland”).  I wanted the dangerous, creepy, violent, and messed up world of Whitey Bulger and his relationship with John Connolly to come to life on screen. It did.

I can say with certainty that what they showed on film was not even close to the brutality of Whitey. What Whitey did was real and bloody. Yet, I can also say Johnny Depp did an amazing job at reenacting  the psychotic, disturbing, and violent Whitey the best anyone could. His eyes were al little weird, but with his f’d-up teeth, slicked back hair, old man clothes, Boston accent, and eerie stare, Depp successfully captured the crazy.

As the theater lights dimmed, I was also a little nervous about a Brit as refined as Benedict Cumberbatch playing Southie Senator Billy Bulger. I was thankful Cumberbatch also met the acting challenge. I don’t think the charisma or commanding nature of Billy was represented. It didn’t matter.

The other star in the movie is the setting, the recreation of old Boston. The seventies cars, the eighties buildings, the old bridges and infrastructure that has long since changed came back to life on screen.

I give “Black Mass” 4 stars (really good). You should see it. It’s worth the price of admission (maybe even more, depending on how much you like mob movies and violence).

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