Black Mass Movie Reviews: Hinting At The Real Story

hare_2074103iThe Boston Globe’s Ben Hur Ty Burr gives us the view from inside the factory:  It’s a solid if not stellar crime drama, well put together, very well acted, and lacking only a genuine reason to exist. . . .  And “Black Mass” is heavily invested in presenting Whitey as Satan from Southie, a figure of almost biblical evil. Without that heft — without the legend — there’d be no movie. Would anyone be interested in a small-time sociopath? “ (my emphasis)

He won’t be too well liked at the home base with his suggestion Whitey is “a small-time sociopath.” For years we’ve been told that he is a “Satan from Southie” which is appropriate because so many in the media consider Southie as some form of Hell. The other day former Globe reporter DicK Lehr called him at the Coolidge Square Cinema opening “the most evil man in the planet.”  I’d guess that gives us a good insight into Lehr’s limited mind-view of the world and the book he authored.

A different review of the movie comes from across the stream in the Guardian. It is a little ironic that it takes a British newspaper to utilize the services of a Boston crime writer Susan Zalkind (is she related to Jack or Norman?) to come up with the true essence of the tale of Whitey and the FBI when the home town rags because of the need to stay on the good side of the FBI keep telling us the time worn fake story.

She writes: “For many, the real saga centers on the FBI’s use of criminals as informants, and the shadowy figures who preserved Bulger’s relationship with the bureau for all those years. The characters in the film shine at the expense of highlighting a bleaker story, that’s perhaps more horrifying than Bulger’s.”

Ms Zalkind gets this right although she is drinking the Kool-Aid on other issues but that is to be expected. This is a difficult story to understand for someone who has not been a part of it for years and who may as an introduction use the book Black Mass.

Brian Bishop in the Verge while praising Depp says:And despite its many high points and impeccable craftsmanship, I found myself walking away from Black Mass feeling surprisingly empty. Depp’s performances may be remarkable, yes, but that alone isn’t a reason for a movie to exist. There needs to be purpose — it needs to be about something — and Mass doesn’t seem to have much to say beyond what already exists on public record.” It is a good word, “empty,” because it is becoming more apparent that what happened between the small-time sociopath and the FBI needs a closer scrutiny beyond a bad John Connolly.

A.O. Scott in the New York Times also senses the emptiness. He writes: It’s possible, though, to think of the shortcomings of “Black Mass” as fitting comeuppance for Mr. Bulger. He may have thought he was a big deal, but in the end all he merits is a minor gangster movie.”

Al Alexander of the Patriot Ledger cleverly tells us the movie would have been better called “Black Miss.” The “Miss” I thought he was talking about was what others spotted which is the real story, the FBI.  That was not what he was talking about so he too in his review missed  what was missing.

He writes: “It aims for the heart of the gangster genre, but gets whacked in the brain. . . . There’s nothing here you haven’t heard or seen a thousand times over on TV or in the papers. And that’s a major bummer.”  Then he ends with an odd comment for a movie reviewer saying: “May they both [Whitey and Connolly] rot in hell.” Why ever would he put that in there?

I’m running over words so I’ll end with the Wall Street Journal review by Joe Morgenstern.  It notesBut does the world need another display of violence like “Black Mass”? The movie has my vote, not for displaying the shocking savagery of its malign hero but for dramatizing the dismaying complicity of a powerful government agency in Bulger’s career. . . .” 

 Unfortunately, that is what it did not show. Connolly, his supervisor Morris, the Boston FBI did not exist on their own as is apparently portrayed in the movie. They are part of the “powerful government agency” but the story in neither the book or the movie tells us how it was that agency that created Whitey; none seem to understand John Connolly was only playing a role assigned to him.

The real story is the FBI’s partnering up with murderers for the purpose of keeping itself in the front pages of the newspapers. It fancies itself  as the world’s premier crime fighting agency. It fails to see it is becoming the world’s premier crime enabling agency.

Whitey, properly described as the “small-time sociopath” or “minor gangster,” did his damage to a few people mostly criminals in a little three or four square mile area. The FBI does its damage to the nation and beyond affecting many millions. That is the movie that remains to be made.


29 thoughts on “Black Mass Movie Reviews: Hinting At The Real Story

  1. Matt
    When you have time please watch the Kevin Weeks video. He says some of the things you re-iterate here on this blog about the FBI. Weeks claims they kept Heroin and Angel dust out of Southie but collected money off coke and marihuana dealers. He also says that Bulger got captured because of the US Marshals and NOT because of the FBI. He says the US Marshals came up with strategy to go after Catherine Grieg. He also says Whitey Bulger did many good things for different people too. He does mention just how FAST Whitey bulger would get violent and the dgree to violence he would express.

    Weeks also talks about how dangerous the members of Winter Hill were :Martarano, McDonald, Sims were ALL killers and highly dangerous dudes.

    1. Jerome:

      Maybe I’ll watch it. Don’t buy Weeks too much. He is trying to push his new book. I met with a guy over the last week or so who knows all the characters who told me that Whitey was bringing in all type of drugs early on. Weeks has an incentive to lie. His story about Connolly in the refrigerator storage unit made no sense but it helped him get his deal and also helped the government beat the 5 year statute of limitations. He also told one story and took a lie detector test and flunked so he told another.

  2. Matt (and everyone else):

    There is a likability about Kevin Weeks. I often found him articulate, engrossing, and somewhat entertaining during interviews:

    1. Jerome:

      There is a likability about Whitey. He is articulate, engrossing and somewhat entertaining. Most criminals are like that for you do need those characteristics to get along with other criminals. But like Weeks himself said he is a criminal and all criminals are liars.

  3. Has anyone challenged(respectfully) the 2 men who wrote this book? When presented with serious inconsistencies and obvious mistakes in the simple timeline of it all? At some point they are going to have to answer for this fantasy of a book/script??? I would love to have them sit down and answer simple questions about this fantasy fictitious narrative!!! Steve Flemmi was made to be some kind of piss boy???? Movie was AWFUL!!!!

    1. Fred Wyshak, Brian Kelly, Jim Farmer and Jamie Herbert prosecuted a few chumps in show trials to stonewall Congressional investigations using pretext Grand Jury Criminal Rule 6(e) and “press leaks”. When Wyshak’s DOJ funding was cut off he misappropriated $14 million in victim restitution assets to pay his “Strike Force”, protected witnesses through sham forfeiture proceedings.

      Several key newspaper reporters were identified as Strike Force informants who were represented by then Bingham attorneys Mary Murrane and Denise Casper, then their planted articles used as a basis to derail the victims wrongful death lawsuits. If the DOJ and Federal Courts are to maintain any credibility whatsoever with the public these victim women, children and families need to be taken care of.

      1. Bruce,

        Which newspaper reporters were Strike Force informants?

        And how could attorney Casper have represented Strike Force informants and then that not come up as an issue later, when she is a judge presiding over U.S.A. vs James J. Bulger ?

        One more thing,..thank you for mentioning it,…. it deserves repeating.

        The way the federal government fought with every dirty courtroom trick to screw the victims families out of rightful wrongful death proceeds. That was DESPICABLE. It was their only chance to show one shred of decency in the whole fiasco, and they blew it.


        1. Several of these major Boston newspaper reporters were “privileged or media informants” on Bulger’s witness list. When his counsel requested they be sequestered, the judge made an ambiguous disclosure on the record of having represented that newspaper but it’s questionable before jury convictions whether the victims’ had any standing to object or were aware of the true extent of the conflicts. I believe the court later excluded her former client reporters and senior DOJ colleagues as defense witnesses also important to the public’s First Amendment right to understand government operations.

          Privileged or media-related informants (defense attorneys, marital, doctors, clergy and journalists) require special high-level DoJ committee approvals because of the serious consequences to the public and government. The U.S. Attorney’s Office MA (USAMA) routinely uses such privileged informants without approvals. These were some of the rare cases where the USAMA and 5-6 District/First Circuit judges (former AUSAs) had personally protected, immunized, or represented co-conspirator informants so as to require specially assigned prosecutors and judges from other districts.

  4. Matt, I have an “Open Letter” that was sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences setting out concerns with the movie. If you would like to read the letter, please let me know by contacting me on my email address. I would like to send it to all of your readers, but, I need your permission before I do anything in this regard. You should have my email address.

  5. Yes, one more comment; John Connolly was not a childhood friend of James “Whitey” Bulger, you see they are 11 years apart in age. So, to say that Whitey was John’s childhood friend is incorrect. For illustration purposes, when John was ten years old, Whitey was 21, when the alleged association took place according to Black Mess..

    1. R.Baker
      Thank you for the insights and sharing of information. TJ English has written another book covering Whitey Bulger and the history with the FBI. I have not read the book yet I hope it has more truths than the other books. Besides Matt and his blog I find no other reliable source(s) regarding all of this New England Organized Crime saga. I met David Boeri when I was at the trial on two seperate days. A very likable and personable guy.

    2. R.

      Whitey has said the first time he met John Connolly was when he went into Louis Littif’s place. That was many, many years after their childhood. You are right. They never knew each other as kids. John Connolly made up some stories about that for some reason.

  6. One more comment: When you hear that the FBI protects their informants you are not mistaken. However, I must explain what I mean by the FBI protects their informants; first and foremost, the FBI handler protects their identity, to do otherwise would compromise their relationship with the FBI, and possibly put them in harms- way with the criminal elements in their world. Any other form of protection is done with the full cooperation of the United States Attorney’s office and the DOJ. Do not be naïve, to do otherwise would put the handler, himself, in trouble and may cause him legal problems of his own; no one wants to jeopardize their job, their family and their reputation for the sake of their informant, and, the informant knows this from day one! John Connolly is no different!

    1. The movie was a farce, pure propaganda to promote the “rogue agent” cover-up theory of the U.S. Attorney’s a Office or DOJ.

      Most of the investigations, prosecutions, victims lawsuits, and victim restitution were shams assigned to certain conflicted judges (not all) who were personally complicit, conflicted, then willfully blind as AUSAs in protecting the “informants”, multiple IRA weapons/explosives shipments, the extent of the ongoing black market immunity-extortion ring and screwed the victims wrongful death lawsuits/restitution.

    2. Well Said Richard. Against my better judgement, i saw that Black Mess. What they did to John in that work of fiction made me ill. Several times i wanted to get up, stop the movie and explain the truth to the unknowing masses. I doubt any of them noticed at the end that the guy that was doing all the shooting and admitted to 20 murders is now free while John continues to be kept from his family simply for doing his job. How about the scene when Steve Fleming went over and lovingly stroked the dead body of the girl he had molested for years? He was so sad about what Whitey had done. Despicable. Lastly, how about the fact that Kevin weeks is shown in the background of every murder with a worried look on his face like he is there but not a participant and very concerned about what he is witnessing! Rubbish

  7. Matt, I feel that I should make a point about my dear friend John Connolly. The movie “Black M[e]ss” yes Black Mess not Black Mass, is just that! David Boeri, a friend, stated that he viewed the movie with a critical eye and came away claiming the movie was “awful.” He mentioned that the movie had John Connolly meeting with Whitey, Flemmi and Martorano in Florida the night before John Callahan was killed; well, this is not only false, but a bold face lie. Martorano stated during John Connolly’s Boston trial, he never met John Connolly and never spoke to John Connolly, and John Connolly had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of John Callahan. Martorano stated that he killed Callahan; he had the gun used to shoot Callahan in the back of the head at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, and this was done in the company of the late Joe McDonald. This brings me to the major point in this post: John Connolly was recruited, along with other talented FBI SAs to develop top echelon informants. This was done with the complete cooperation and knowledge of the Department of Justice in WDC and the respective United States Attorneys. Each prospective criminal target would be contacted by the FBI SA and convinced to cooperate with the FBI, with certain restrictions. During the cultivation period, the target was told that he/she would be able to continue with their criminal enterprise[s], however, they could not commit any murder under any circumstances, period! The now Top Echelon [TE] informant knew that he/she would not be protected from prosecution if they commit any murder. At this point, the TE knew that if he/she was engaged in any murder they would not make it known to the FBI handler. In a deposition of Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, he was subjected to several interrogatories, and in one deposition he stated that [in words to the effect] he was never asked by John Connolly to kill anyone on his behalf. He advised that he never told John Connolly about any murder that he planned, or was involved in directly or indirectly and to do so would be ridiculous because he would arrest him. I bring this up to make clear that these street-wise TE’s knew what to report and what not to report. They may not be academic scholars, but, they did have street smarts. The people involved with taking the deposition of Flemmi, decided to put the entire deposition under seal by convincing an unsuspecting federal judge to sign off on this request. The revelation of the deposition would have resulted in John Connolly getting a new trial or at least a review by the appeals court. Well, everyone knows the results. John Connolly was convicted of four predicate charges out of fourteen. Not one of the four charges involved any violence. And, the four charges he was convicted of were a direct result of Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme’s testimony, which was complete perjury and/or suborned . John is the scapegoat for the DOJ, and everyone involved in his prosecution knows this! John is now fighting for his freedom in Florida, where AUSA Fred Wyshak convinced the Florida States Attorney to go after John Connolly for the Callahan murder. He knew that John was found not responsible for any involvement in Callahan’s murder but claimed that there was no double-jeopardy. As a reminder, John Martorano stated John Connolly had nothing to do with Callahan’s murder. I will have more to say later; the story continues.

  8. Jerome,
    Whitey and John Connolly were “playing chess, while the mafia was playing checkers” (paraphrased from Black Mass the book)

    We have learned that so much of the book (and now the movie) was/is false since it came out.
    You are right, now it looks like Whitey and John Connolly were BOTH PAWNS in a much bigger, game of chess that was started by J. Edgar Hoover in the early sixties.

    Ratman was the most entertaining (informative) of the three books to me.
    Benji is not known for his honesty, but there was a lot of background given that he had no reason to lie about…..and even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    1. Rather Not
      I find HITMAN the best of the Howie Carr books in terms of entertainment. Did you see BLACK MASS yet? Are you going to read the new TJ English book on Whitey Bulger?

      1. Jerome,
        Of those three, I liked Rifleman the best.
        I will definitely read TJ English’s new book.
        I read “PaddyWhacked” and “Whiteys Payback”
        English is New York-based…..but what he lacks in local knowledge, he makes up for in objectivity.

        1. Rather:

          Remember that TJ has already written about the Winter Hill gang and has taken the usual media slant on things that happened. So he has taken the Kool Aid so read the book with that understanding.

  9. Matt
    Dont blast me on this but Howie Carr book Hitman and Ratman were/are more entertaining than the movie Black Mass. What does that tell you?

  10. Matt
    The movie is “empty” and falls short because it doesnt do a decent job of focusing on the REAL ISSUE which is the Top Echelon Informant program. They dont show in the movie Steve Flemmi trying to kill a lawyer, going on the run and then the FBI bringing him back for their purposes by dismissing some very very serious charges. I could go on and on but theres too many to cover in 2 hours. If they wanted to do a movie on Whitey Bulger then they should have done his entire life. Shoot, there was plenty of drama for a 3 hour picture based on the life he lived and the people he dealt with.

    The Black Mass book and movie try to portray Whitey Bulger as this mastermind criminal who is so slick and out manuevered damn nearly everyone. But my thinking now is that Whitey Bulger was just another pawn for the FBI game of “chess” dealing with criminals.

  11. Matt,
    The consensus seems to be pretty unanimous on this movie.
    I shouldn’t be surprised….
    The trial was a letdown.
    The Joe Berlinger documentary was a letdown.
    “Whitey”……the man, the myth, the legend… a total letdown.
    Nothing ever lives up to its billing when it comes to this saga that we all are so foolishly, myself included, captivated by.
    We will never, never, never fully unravel this case….we have been trying since Matt started the blog…..and with all due respect to the body of Matt’s work, and the insightful commenting by all, ….are we really any closer to the truth than we started? or have we just opened Pandora’s box?

    The last point of view left to hear is Whitey’s. Maybe those “manuscripts” will pop up, or the rumored book by a niece (really Whitey’s version) will come to fruition.
    That will be total propaganda, but might still be entertaining. Time will tell.

    1. Correction….the last point of view is really John Connolly’s.
      We know more about Whitey’s views on the relationship and other peeks into his mindset through his jailhouse letters and scripted quotes in the Berlinger documentary.

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