When the teaser for Black Mass emerged (playing out as a direct homage to the Tommy DeVito “funny how” sequence) it was obvious that director Scott Cooper and writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth are huge Goodfellas fans. Whitey (Depp) coaxes John Morris (David Harbour) to spill the beans on the secret family recipe. After some gentle nudging and prodding, he relents. Whitey suddenly turns and becomes offended by how easily a “secret” was revealed. From cordial to ice cold, Whitey’s sallow, Skeletor looking face shows nothing but distain. The rest of Whitey’s warning about the importance of loyalty rings out in a voice-over as the chaos and violence of his reign plays out in a quick fire montage. Keep an eye out for a slow motion Joel Edgerton (playing FBI agent John Connolly) jumping as if he’s in a Toyota ad and the smiling “Eggs” Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother). James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger Jr. (played by Depp) is an Irish-American gangster who went from FBI informant to second place on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, behind only Osama bin Laden. His original arrangement with the FBI was to provide information about workings of the Patriarca crime family, and Bulger took that to mean that the FBI was endorsing a personal war on the family. The phrase it’s not what you know but whom you shared a womb with applies to Whitey, because he fortuitously had a brother, William “Billy” Bulger (Cumberbatch), who was the former President of the Massachusetts Senate. Bulger had the perfect storm of law enforcement turning a blind eye, political influence to cover up any potential issues and volatility to make those on his side fearful of continuing association.
Since the 19th of September 1990, Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas, first graced the cinema screen and since then, you can’t help but be lured back for additional viewings. The beautifully manicured nails of crime boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) delicately nursing a rough razor to slice up a garlic clove; the absurd life of ‘wise guys’ in jail, where the biggest is how much onion is in the tomato sauce. Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito, one of the most terrifying and hilarious characters to ever grace celluloid, making Michael Imperioli’s (Christopher from The Sopranos) Spider, dance with a revolver; it’s damned near hypnotic. However, in the wake of last year’s Oscar winning Best Picture Birdman, lauded for it’s singular shot trickery, one can’t help but tip the hat to Scorsese’s Copacabana entrance tracking shot; one of the most wonderfully composed and executed shots in the history of U.S cinema.
The chameleon Johnny Depp is masking himself behind yet another one of America’s most famous iconic criminals doing two things: finding himself at the perfect age to bring Whitey Bulger to the screen and in a way bridging the gap between two of his other notable performances. First up, Depp played the titular Donnie Brasco in Mike Newell’s 1997 feature about the FBI undercover agent, Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in the 70s. After a long deserved break between Tim Burton projects, it was back to the 1930s and into the fedora of the most infamous bank robber in U.S history, John Dillinger, in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies in 2009.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.