By Don Guillory
He was one of the most dangerous men and most notorious gangsters in American history. For over sixteen years he evaded the FBI and law enforcement until his eventual capture in 2011. Black Masstells the story of James “Whitey” Bulger and his alliance with the FBI. The film delves deep into the relationship that is built between Bulger and FBI agents which allows him to expand his power beyond the Boston area. Audiences will be awestruck by the actions permitted and overlooked on the part of FBI agents working with Bulger which fall in line with the advice that Bulger gives his son: “If no one saw it, it didn’t happen.”
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands) assumes the role of Bulger and audiences will not be able to take their eyes off of him in this film. Every movement, word, and action that he provides on screen demonstrates his versatility and ability to wear the skin and assume identity of those that he portrays. His portrayal of Whitey Bulger separates him from the “Jack Sparrow” identity that his audiences have become accustomed to. Even more impressive about his acting is the way in which the film’s direction displays more of a human element to this monster. The audience is shown countless acts of brutality undertaken by Bulger or on his orders, but there are moments in which you feel a sense of sorrow for the character. In no way do the moments allow for redemption or offer excuses for his actions, but it allows for the portrayal of a more human element. Humanizing Bulger allows for a much fuller picture of what took place during his life and demonstrates that crime was not the only factor.
The film takes all of us into a very dark place. We see a monster in action. We see countless people fall victim to Bulger and his organization. Depp intimidates not only the other characters being portrayed, but the audience in the way that his eyes always seem so cold and heartless. It is said that when you look into someone’s eyes, you can see their soul. With Whitey Bulger, his soul is absent whenever he is portrayed onscreen. This helps to solidify Depp’s portrayal of Bulger and the way that he lived his life. He was a cold, heartless monster. The only sense of a soul or any humanity comes with the direction of the film to make this monster human.