Well, I suppose it had to happen.
The lights can’t always be green, right? And I guess Novak Djokovich will lose a tennis match one day.
Last night was our third foray to Screen Unseen, the Odeon’s lucky dip movie night. You roll up and have no idea what you’ll be seeing, other than that it’s guaranteed to be a mainstream film, and that it has yet to be released to the wider UK audience. And for just £5 it’s worth the risk it might be a celluloid dog.
Last night’s surprise was Black Mass, a biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger. Jimmy was a low-level mobster born and bred in Boston’s rough south side. But for almost 20 years from the mid 1970s he became untouchable, thanks to an unholy alliance with the FBI.
The relationship was intended to bring down the Italian Mafia gang running the city on the other side of the river. It did – eventually – but it also gave Bulger and his gang carte blanche to commit crime on an epic scale.
Johnny Depp plays Whitey. He’s a smart pyschopath, murdering anyone who crosses his path, or who rats him out. And yet he’s an FBI informant, convincing himself it’s just business. His criminal mayhem really gets out of control after losing his son and mother, but he’s clever enough to escape from Boston when it all finally unravels in 1994. He evaded capture until 2011 and is now serving multiple life sentences in a Florida penitentiary.
The FBI agent who facilitated Bulger’s criminal ascent was John Connolly, a childhood friend of both James Bulger and his brother, Billy Bulger. Connolly is arguably a more nuanced character than Whitey, brilliantly acted here by Joel Edgerton. The FBI agent’s own career, and income, soar in direct proportion to Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang’s lawlessness.
Connolly’s innate sense of loyalty extended to not informing on Bulger when the alliance was finally aired, despite Whitey ordering the murder of his long time collaborator. The ex law agent has been imprisoned since 1999 on multiple charges, including taking bribes, informing Bulger of his imminent arrest, and 2nd degree murder.
Amazingly, Billy Bulger becomes a senator and the most powerful political figure in Massachusetts, at the same time as his brother is murdering, drug-running and racketeering. His own demise only happens when he contacts his fugitive brother. Benedict Cumberbatch is an unlikely choice to play the politician, but he does it well, straddling the corridors of power and the rough neighbourhood he was brought up in.
The film is inevitably violent and contains the usual mobster movie f-word blizzard. But it’s a low-rent Goodfellas, a wannabe Godfather, recounting an incredible true story, but without being nearly as engaging as either of those mob classics.
Unless Whitey is reading this….in which case it was a f***ing great movie, Jimmy.