I shall be presiding over Black Mass, testifying to its actions and judging its transgressions to find if it is hella good or hasn’t got a prayer. So read on only if you’ve already witnessed Black Mass or don’t plan to.
0:01:19 Jesse Plemons (Todd from Breaking Bad and Ed Blumquist from Fargo ) is unrecognisable as Kevin Weeks, an informant for the FBI. If I could act this well, I’d fake call in sick to work far more often.
DEA Agent Eric Olsen: Am I correct in stating that you are going from trusted confidant to one of South Boston’s most notorious and violent gangsters to government witness?
Agent Olsen: Then I need to know everything you know about the Winter Hill Gang, the FBI and John Connolly, and specifically what you know about your former boss and now fugitive, James “Whitey” Bulger.
DEA Agent Eric Olsen (Lonnie Farmer) interrogating Weeks
The DEA is trying to take my job with synopses like that.
[N.B. According to the IMDb trivia page, Jesse Plemons gained weight for his role as Kevin Weeks and was subsequently asked by the producers of the television series Fargo (2015), his next project, to keep the weight on, as he portrays a character who is a butcher by profession.]
[The song you’re hearing is the Allman Brothers Band, “It’s Not My Cross To Bear”. If you like southern U.S. country/rock blues, I’m told there’s worse.]
0:05:32 Kevin Weeks is a bouncer at The Triple O’s, a club frequented by James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp). Weeks gets his arse handed to him by Charlie McTiernan (Anthony Molinari), a bloke he banned for urinating on the bar the week before. Charlie and his two friends beat up Kevin so badly that he can’t be called a bouncer because when he hits the wall, he doesn’t bounce at all.
0:07:42 Jimmy includes Kevin in the Winter Hill Gang by asking him to drive out to a boat yard and help him pummel Joey Anguilo. I’ve had worse job interviews.
[N.B. In reality, Jimmy and Kevin pummelled a bloke called Paul Giaimo, who’d slapped Bulger’s niece. And if they’d given such a thrashing to a real mobster? “There would have been bodies in the streets if that happened,” according to the real Kevin Weeks.]
0:10:25 John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who as a child looked up to Jimmy, is now an FBI agent returning to South Boston. He meets with William ‘Billy’ Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), Jimmy’s brother and President of the Massachusetts Senate. John tells Billy he knows Jimmy is trying to horn in on the Mafia’s business. Bill Bulger walks out on the meal…I think he was fed up.
Billy Bulger: Hey, Ma, did you hear old Mother Burke died over on Baker Street? No one found her for a couple of weeks.
All the more interesting when you realise Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Billy Bulger, also plays Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock – and Sherlock Holmes lives at 221 Baker Street.
0:16:48 Connolly meets with Jimmy to tell him Gennaro Angiulo (of the same mob family as Joey Angiulo, whom Jimmy and Kevin laid out at 0:07:42 – in reality the Patriarca crime family) is planning to have Jimmy killed. Connolly proposes a deal between the two men, in which Jimmy will get information about his enemies from the FBI, and Jimmy will help the feds crack down on these enemies. Like a natural straight in Vegas, Jimmy thinks this is a good deal.
Here’s the deal… You did not get in trouble because you punched this sneaky brat in the face. Not at all. You got in trouble because you punched this sneaky little brat in the face in front of other people. … If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.
Jimmy talking to his son
Just one of the ways Jimmy can teach someone a lesson.
0:24:36 In a flash forward, the FBI interview John ‘Johnny’ Martorano (W. Earl Brown) AKA the Basin Street Butcher, the Winter Hill Gang’s chief executioner. He admits to rubbing out 20 people. Killing is a good living.
0:26:21 Jimmy, Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), and Martorano pick up Tommy the drunk (Scott Anderson). Tommy is meant help the group locate Suitcase, who they suspect set up Mickey. With a name like ‘Suitcase’, it should be in the bag.
Tommy apologizes for getting out of line when he was drunk at the bar
Martorano shoots him in the back of the head while Jimmy shakes his hand. Jimmy suspects Tommy of setting up Mickey, not Suitcase. Thus yes, Tommy’s good…good and dead.
0:28:34 Flashing forward to the FBI interview, Kevin Weeks wraps up the first act of the film by blaming the FBI for turning a small time crook like Jimmy Bulger into a kingpin. This is perhaps the least known career advancement program in the U.S. government.
0:29:12 John Connolly convinces his superiors, FBI Agents Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) and Robert Fitzpatrick (Adam Scott), to approve the deal using Jimmy as an informant [0:16:48]. The bosses are as excited by this deal as children at an opera.
0:30:38 We learn Jimmy took LSD 50 times for money and a reduced prison sentence while serving time in Alcatraz. If I’d known the U.S. government would pay me to take drugs, I could have retired while I was still in uni.
0:42:17 Another flash forward to the interrogations. This time it’s Steve Flemmi’s turn and he’s informing on Whitey so that the death penalty option is removed from his sentence. Seriously, though, what’s worse, ‘life’ in a federal prison or an early exit? ‘Life’ isn’t worth living, imho. But that’s just me. What do you think?
[The song you’re hearing is “Slave”, by the Rolling Stones.]
0:43:27 Jimmy and the Winter Hill Gang want to get in the ‘jai alai‘ business. It looks a bit like tennis, so you could say they want into the tennis racket.
0:43:36 For the World Jai Alai activity, the Winter Hill Gang work with John Callahan (Bill Camp) and Brian Halloran (Peter Sarsgaard). Brian once helped two drug dealers face their deaths by shooting them in it.
0:44:38 Agent Charles McGuire gives Connolly a time limit of two weeks for concrete information on the Angiulo family or he’ll revoke Bulger’s protected status of ‘criminal informant’. Like revoking a license to kill.
[N.B. McGuire says Jimmy is making the FBI look like the Keystone Cops, which is a reference to silent film era slapstick troupe of fictional police officers.]
0:47:46 Jimmy gives Connolly intel on where Angiulo’s headquarters are in exchange for having the FBI remove all of Angiulo’s vending machines. One hand washes the other, but they’re both still dirty.
0:49:02 In South Florida, a new head of World Jai Alai is appointed, (David De Beck as Roger Wheeler). There is apparently much money to be made betting on this, though I agree with Steve,
I can’t believe people pay to watch this shit.
0:51:24 Jimmy gives Brian Halloran a bag of cash to forget that he heard about killing Wheeler, who would like the jai alai betting money himself. Jimmy is paid $20,000 to not do anything? Where do I get a job like that? Oh wait, I’m a blogger, I already have a job like that.
0:52:42 Martorano shoots Wheeler in the head. The kids in the nearby pool act as though they’ve just been forced to watch Left Behind.
0:55:17 Halloran panicked and Hallo-ran to the FBI to tell them Jimmy had Wheeler killed.
1:01:58 Jimmy kills Brian Halloran himself, after learning from Connolly that Halloran was a rat. A snitch in time takes dives.
1:04:14 Just as Charles is about to end the operation with Bulger, the wiretap in the mafia headquarters pays off with the Don confessing to a myriad of crimes on tape. Confession is good for the soul, but terrible for your record.
[N.B. The song you’re listening to is “Don’t Bring Me Down”, by The Animals (with Eric Burdon)]
1:05:58 At the disco, celebrating Angiulo’s arrest, Connolly and Whitey and the rest of the Winter Hill Gang listen to Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” without shame.
1:07:08 Then, with FBI agent Connolly’s knowledge, Martorano eliminates Callahan, the other World Jai Alai contact, to tie up loose ends. Callahan’s end may not be loose, but it is brutal.
1:10:37 At Jimmy’s mother’s house after her funeral, Cumberbatch acts the shite out of his scene. Hard to believe this proper Englishman can nail an American accent as well as Hugh Grant nailed Americans.
1:13:54 Jimmy and Stevie go to the South Boston police department to pick up Deborah Hussey (Juno Temple), a drug addicted prostitute who pleasures her stepfather (Steve) by putting his honey where her mouth is.
1:17:12 Ms Temple is truly at the top of her game in this film. She acts younger here then she did in Horns. There are times when it’s good not to act your age.
1:18:32 Jimmy is afraid Deborah will share with the police things about the operation Stevie may have told her. To be safe, he takes her on a tour of a house. He shows her the living room, the kitchen, and the dead room.
[N.B. In Kevin Weeks’ own words:
The true story is that me and Jimmy went to that house and we were waiting for Stevie. … I go and use the bathroom upstairs, and as soon as I come down the stairs, I see Stevie and Deborah come in, and I hear boom-boom. I walk in and see that Jimmy had strangled her. I thought she was dead, but then Stevie put his head on her chest, said she was still alive, and he put a clothesline rope around her neck, put a stick in it and twisted. And then after, Stevie dragged her body downstairs and pulled her teeth out. So Stevie wasn’t all sympathetic, mourning, and sorrowful like he is in the movie. Stevie enjoyed murder.]
1:21:07 Immediately after Deborah makes her hasty exit from the film, the Winter Hill Gang have a barbecue at Connolly’s house where his wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson) makes it very clear she doesn’t approve of the company her husband keeps. She’s the hostess with the most less.
1:26:52 As a warning, Jimmy goes to the master bedroom in John’s house to get a hold of Marianne. By the throat.
1:31:38 Connolly goes to butter up United States Attorney Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll) but instead the federal lawyer gets on John’s case.
1:35:02 Agent Fitzpatrick discovers that all of the privileged information given by Whitey Bulger is recycled from other informants. To keep Bulger’s privileged status, Connolly is recovering old information and attributing it to Whitey. Same shite, different way.
1:35:20 American news presenter Connie Chung reports that Jimmy’s weapons shipment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland has been seized. He was trying to give them a hand but they took away his arms.
1:37:01 DEA informant John McIntyre (Brad Carter), the snitch that gave up the IRA arms shipment to the Irish navy, is invited to a surprise party at Whitey’s. The surprise will be when Jimmy toes him to a chair and Weeks trounces him senseless.
1:37:32 Agent McGuire is told he cannot go after Bulger because the bureau can’t cast dispersions on a man whose testimony will convict a large number of mobsters. McGuire is free to go after the FBI agents who are part of the scam (Connolly and Morris). Sounds like two agents are going to be taken out, and not to dinner.
1:43:21 While Wyshak is looking for McIntyre, Jimmy is strangling him with a rope in the basement. To find him, Wyshak is going to need to leave no stone unturned, especially the stones under the bridge near the river.
1:44:25 Agent Morris tells everything to the Boston Globe, who print the article. It’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
1:49:14 Everybody is arrested. As they say in cocaine, ‘It’s the end if the line.’
1:52:31 The cards are dealt here.
Bulger was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years for the deaths of at least eleven people.
Roll credits to some photographs of the real places.
- WTF!?’s: 0 that are strictly criminal
- When to Follow: When you’re 16-17 years old and have never seen a Mafia film before. This is a good one to start on before you move on to The Godfather or a Scorsese mob movie.
- Where’s This Found: Unfortunately, this may be Johnny Depp’s crowning achievement as an actor. I say ‘unfortunately’ because the story here is neither new nor interesting enough to merit our attention. Depp inhabits the role of Jimmy Bulger but, as we don’t care enough about Bulger to care about what happens to him, we don’t care about the film. I’ll say it here, however, Depp’s acting in Black Mass is better than DiCaprio’s acting in The Revenant. Out of a possible 10, I have 7 F’s to give – and it’s all for the actors.
- What To Feedback:
[Note: a reader suggested “Tom Hardy in Legend” as an ‘Other’, so it has been added to the poll.]
[N.B. I referenced these very informative as research tools for this review]
- History vs. Hollywood page (they’ve assembled a nicely put together page of the actual participants and those who portrayed them)
- The Daily Beast
- The Whitey Bulger Wiki page
- The IMDb Trivia page
Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos
Prints suitable for reposting!
WTF!? did they say?
WTF!? do you meme?
What to Follow Up
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