The advent of the ‘neo-noir mobster’ genre in cinema has seen a lot of evolution in it’s editing, soundtrack, dialogue and narrative. “Black Mass” manages to delve deep into the depths of the notorious James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr. who was convicted of 19 murders and served as an FBI informant from 1975, using it to his ravenous advantage. Johnny Depp portrays ‘Whitey’ with a lucid style demonstrating the whole exercise of underplaying a character. Behind those glassy eyes and a balding head, there is a monster that is hungry for more with his fetish for blood and money. His wife, Lindsey Cyr (played by Dakota Fanning), is as sensitive as a flower bud, delicate and unhindered by it purity. They care for their son in a loving manner and Whitey looks after him like a tough lad teaching him not to waste “freshly squeezed” orange juice in the morning. Dakota Fanning manages to capture such powerful emotions in the shortest of screen times to depict her anxiety about the father-son relationship and the direction in which the family is headed. Johnny Depp puts on his veil of playing the family man succeeding to hide his true colours and his day jobs from his mother and Lindsey. The breeding venom in his bent mind is betrayed by his persona of coolness and calmness. John Connoly(played by Joel Edgerton) , his South paw buddie and a childhood friend , is hell bent on his hopes at progressing higher in the FBI. It is shocking to see the fact that a person who is going to serve for the country and help beat the crime rate is himself getting his hands stuck in the dough of a huge criminal fraternity. The money and bling blinds him. He wants to impress his boss by using his ‘contact’ ,Whitey, as an informant to capture the mafia in North Boston. The city of Boston is shown as a cheeky mobster itself with its yellow streetlights, sultry mornings, and empty backyards behind cheeky bars and stylish cars that zoom on the streets. Eventually it’s the underdog bellies that don’t have anything to lose.
The opening shot in the movie shows Kevin’s face resembling the shapeless rabid face of a pitbull that seethes with anger. The interrogation scene starts with the suitable narrative that guides us into the whole scenario of the racketeering scandals, the murders, drug trafficking, smuggling weaponry and lobbying money from loan sharks. Kevin(played by Jesse Plemons) resembles the fresh face of honey suckling youth sailing into the riptides of greed. He gets driven into the criminal world by sucking up to Whitey and his team. Jack Connoly slowly treads into this dungeon of dangerous men increasing the city’s crime rate and aiding Whitey in his ordeals under the FBI’s ‘protective’ umbrella. His wife Marianne Connoly (played by Julianne Nicholson),significantly resembles Vito Corleone’s wife in “The Godfather”(1972), played by Diane Keaton. Marianne sums up her whole soul and concern for a societal dignity during a brief scene where Jack invites Whitey and his gang over, for a barbecue and a few beers. While he is in the kitchen for a steak refill he notices the anxiety on her face and questions it. She retorts to say that she did not envision gangsters coming home to pollute the whole social fabric and sanctity of the house. She is spellbound by his loss of faith in himself and his family.
The whole charade of her husband losing himself into corruption and assisting mobsters pains her in devastation. Her body seethes in pain as seen from her brilliant performance. From that moment on, she avoids any sort of social exchange with Whitey as she is afraid and cares too much about her well-being. She feigns to be ill when Whitey is home for dinner. Loathing her attitude, Whitey walks up to her room confronts her like a lion eyeing a tender deer before ravaging it. He feels her forehead wickedly with his palms and grabs her by the neck. Surprised by her normal body temperature he hints at a life threat that would make him perform another “burial”. I was visually stunned by her acting as it makes you want to gasp with acute pain and anguish.
The principal photography resembles that of the 80s Americas with the hued frames and sepia tinge to the daylight scenes. Colour grading is an upcoming science that affects the whole mood of the movies and ‘Black Mass’ delivers a dark, fearsome vibe through its frames. Masanobu Takayanagi is the master behind the camera which delivers strong long shots, character based focus pans and capturing the enchanting night lights of Boston. The iconic meeting point of Jack Connoly and Whitey is a location to remember with the cityscape in the distance and gleaming highways.
The screenplay ultimately steals the show with lines intricately crafted by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. It revolutionizes the whole method of penning a noir story based on real events. We are introduced to characters through a calm paced narrative. This allows us to fill our minds with the space necessary to evaluate the scenarios that dawn the different years from 1975 to 1985. If we do not understand or capture any of the characters and their behaviour in our minds we are at loss. But the writers pitch in the extra effort of feeding us tasteful dialogues that keep our minds clear of any confusion or contradiction. It is totally evident from the scenes in the film that the writing must be as simplistic and fluid as possible for us to capture maximum information in a given time span. A minimum of ten characters stay in our mind after we walk out of the theatres. They haunt us with their personalities and actions. An actor may deliver a line with the given vigour and passion but finally it’s the content of the lines that matter. The dialogue and space between characters must define their personality and nature. The ruthlessness of Whitey sends chills through our spines. Meanwhile,Fred Wyshak (played by Corey Stoll) becomes the new federal advocate in Connoly’s office. He is the white unicorn in disguise ready to make his hands dirty by facing the mobsters and the liars upfront. Connoly continues his act in the FBI unaware of the flames that slowly engulf him and burn him down. Eventually it leads to the fall of Whitey and subsequently his entire gang.
This movie has been truly crafted according to the modern “Godfather” model. Scott Cooper, the director, has this one to his name along with the Jeff Bridges starrer, “Crazy Heart”. He has developed a new form of narrative which places us as a third person or witness within the movie. Space is given to the audience to judge on its own and to place suspicions. This movie is fresh in its technique and screenplay backed by top notched performances. The smell of the street of Boston lingers as we walk out of the movie on to the streets, questioning the judicial system and where the world is headed.