“Black Mass” by Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill chronicles the union between legendary Irish Mob Boss James “Whitey” Bulger and the FBI in the Boston criminal underworld. As filming begins, the “Black Mass” story is a challenge to movie makers and star Johnny Depp as they try to accurately portray this criminal association and the complex and often misrepresented Irish mobster.
Bulger and associate Stevie Flemmi were recruited by FBI agent and fellow South Boston local John Connelly to be informants about Italian mafia activity in Boston. Using this cover and the aid of the FBI, they expanded their criminal enterprise of gambling, extortion, drug dealing, and murder to epic proportions until its downfall in the 1990’s.
Lehr and O’Neill deep investigation into the Boston criminal underworld of the 1970’s and 1980’s includes essential detail of the culture and background of the main players involved. For the movie to establish authenticity, portrayal of these subtle nuances as explained by Lehr and O’Neill between South Boston, the North End, Quincy, etc. will be essential.
Lehr and O’Neill also expertly describe the “Bulger Myth”. This myth included Whitey Bulger’s perceived loyalty to South Boston, his lack of tolerance for drugs, and his generosity to its residents. Conversely, Lehr and O’Neill also detail Bulger’s ruthless core and powerful and intimidating demeanor. Depp has to blend these facets of Bulger (his razor-sharp glare, quiet listening before bombastic eruptions, and free-talking schmoozing) to create such a unique and misrepresented character.
Possibly the biggest challenge in making “Black Mass” into a movie is the amount of information presented. With over 30 years of detail, information regarding Bulger’s recruitment, the protection, cover, and bribery of the FBI provided, and its subsequent downfall are detailed.
Intermingled are the powerful moments demonstrating Bulger’s hardened and ruthless core – actions like the murder of Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler and the frightening intimidation and takeover of Rakes’ Liquor Store in South Boston. Combined with his near complete control of the Boston drug market, these moments demonstrate just how powerful Bulger became.
Finally, “Black Mass” ends with Whitey Bulger on the run and on the FBI Most Wanted list. FBI Agent John Connelly is indictment, Steve Flemmi and other either on trial or convicted of various crimes. How the movie handles the capture, trial, and conviction of Whitey Bulger remains to be seen.
Overall, “Black Mass” has the elements to be a successful, if movie it can present a believable and succinct tale of Whitey Bulger and company.