“Well established by now that I live in Boston (technically Cambridge, but I’m just two stops away on the Red Line or just a mile and a half down Mass Ave on the #1 bus). There’ve been lots of movies made about my town and lots of movies filmed in my town. Some of them only hold the city’s attention during filming, others only during its theatrical run or in a sort of cult status post release, and even some none at all. Black Mass has had Boston’s eye on it from the moment it was announced. But that comes as no surprise seeing as how James “”Whitey”” Bulger has had this city’s attention for much much longer than that.
Now, of course, as an adopted Bostonian (native Texan), I didn’t find out about him until the time of his capture in 2011. Or at least, I didn’t know anything else about him besides knowing that Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed was based on some infamous Boston mobster guy. However, it was his trial a couple years later where I actually started to hear some of the details of his story. It was all over the local news, and a hot topic for discussion. I remember reading thru the article delivering the verdict, speechless at all the listed offenses.
As far as the movie, there were whispers about it when it was officially in the works. Actually, there was talk about two versions, one starring homeboys Matt and Ben (which thus far has not materialized), and a second one that seemed to be moving faster towards production. Then Johnny Depp was announced in the lead role, and no one seemed to think that was a good idea. Keep in mind, this was in the current dark period of Depp’s career, where much of his early skill and success was shadowed by his increasingly more and more ridiculous characters and the unabashed spectacle of those films.
Filming started, and you’d hear the occasional snippet about a well known location they were using or someone seeing crews nearby. And then, something else started happening that changed opinions around. Depp was spotted on set in full costume. As pictures started circulating, people realized that he had nailed it. Maybe this was a good idea after all. Those who knew Bulger have said that he looked exactly like him.
So now, as the movie is out, it’s one of those that everyone has to see. Every theater in New England is showing it, and related stories are littering the local news sources. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like seeing the movie anywhere else, not across the street from the Boston Common. It’s probably just an ordinary movie, with mixed responses like any other. Would I have been so absorbed in it if I wasn’t saturated in its atmosphere and history? Probably not. But it is a pretty cool experience to see something you’re at least moderately close to on film.
The movie only scratched the surface of who this man was and what he did, and that’s how it sort of felt. I don’t really know any details other than those presented (I have a copy of Kevin Weeks’ book that I was loaned some time back that I never got around to reading), but I could feel how stretched out it was. Similar to how I often feel when I see a movie based on a book that I haven’t read, I could tell things were being cut out and re-stitched together. I didn’t know what was missing, but I knew there was something and felt slightly cheated. You saw almost everything thru Whitey’s (creepy contact lensed) eyes, which gave a mostly high level view of things. Exactly what all his schemes were or how they played out was rarely gotten into. The focus was on his relationship with the FBI agent who made him an informant.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of Depp’s portrayal, but I can speak to the performance itself, and he is back in top form. He’s fantastic enough for you to forget about Mortdecai and Tusk and Dark Shadows and the later Pirates films and Transcendence and The Lone Ranger. He may not be entirely recovered from all of those, but there’s hope.
Black Mass – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”