The 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 notes: “But 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.