A few weeks ago, I was reviewing a documentary which came out a while ago called Whitey: The United States Of America v. James. J Bulger. At the same time, Brad, a friend of mine was watching the film Black Mass in New Delhi. We were having a discussion about how he liked the film and he quickly reiterated the fact that, Black Mass was actually a graphic retelling of what we were dished out in the documentary. He went to the extent of saying that the film just adds the action and stuff that Whitey did in first person, which they couldn’t possibly show in the documentary. Other than that, it remains fairly loyal to the documentary. I knew about James. J Bulger but didn’t know that Black Mass was an actual retelling of the life of James. J Bulger. But that’s what it was and my interest for the film increased two folds.
The story starts from Bulger’s initial rise to stardom as a ruthless and marauding Boston mobster who was going heads on with the Italian families. Now that’s something people don’t do regularly. He starts of small and then his operations receive a shot in the arm. The FBI officer, John Connolly(Joel Edgerton) who also happens to have grown up with him, comes to him and offers a means by which he could not only carry on his operations unhindered, but they could also make some substantial money out of it. The idea was to portray Bulger as an FBI informant under the ECHELON project. Bulger, who never really gave any substantial tips to the FBI, now enjoyed their protection and he used this new found power to run riot and amass wealth of epic proportion.
He was the one who ensured that every 10 year old, willing to have a whiff of drugs, had it in his or her hands. His wrong doing brought death and destruction upon many. He had personal loses too but that never deterred him from doing what he was doing. His brother, who was a Senator, was also constantly in touch with him, though his involvement in Bulger’s criminal empire could never be proved. He operated through a trio of trusted aides and they remained loyal to him till his capture. Connolly who was instrumental in him having the sort of power that he did, finally had to take the fall. Bulger himself was apprehended, years later and subsequently went to trial wherein he was handed two life sentences plus five years for the 11 counts of murders that he was charged with.
The film is able to hit the right notes with the character. It never tries to go out all guns blazing and remains strictly rooted to actual facts and events. There is very little action/violence on display. The film works like a peek into Bulger’s life. There are scenes showing prolonged drama and discussion between characters which in turns gives us insight into the criminal psych of the man. There is a parallel track running which shows Whitey’s associate being questioned. The testimonies that they give further takes us deep into the insane world of Whitey. The film ends with showing us the verdicts that each of the men received including John Connolly who got 40 years for a second degree murder.
Johnny Depp, who has been having a tough time, finally breaks into a role which does justice to his immense potential. He makes the character his own and adding a few things here and there he leaves a personal mark on the man. He maintains a devilish demeanor which is bound to impress one and all. The film might have been boring had it not been for his enterprising essay. The reason I say this is because the whole narrative is devoid any cinematic charm and fluff in terms of visuals and mounting. The films takes a strict documentary style approach which might not have found takers in some of the audiences. However, Depp’s essay ensures that the interest in the film is sustained.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays his kid brother Billy. He does well as is customary with the man. In these days, Cumberbatch just can’t go wrong. The action and violence happens as a result of charged emotions and, Whitey almost always end up on the right side of it. This is a film for those who root for the bad guys in a film primarily because the villain never looses throughout the film, right till the very end. My only complaint with the film is that, it could have shown parts of Whitey’s childhood and his teenage days which could have been a worthy addition. His days in Alcatraz are also used only as reference. The film that we have in our hands is nothing more than the documentary that we have seen.
Thus for all those who have seen the documentary, there are neither any novelties nor any shocks which may not be a good thing for the film. But, all those who haven’t seen the documentary and have little idea about Bulger, this will be a thoroughly absorbing experience. Hence before walking into this film, the lesser you know about Bulger, the better served you will be. Watch it for Depp, the drama and the shocking story that it has too tell. Welcome back to form! Depp