In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster Jimmy Bulger to collaborate with the FBI in order to eliminate their common enemy: the Italian mob. Black Mass tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiralled out of control, allowing Bulger to evade law enforcement while escalating his power to become the most feared crime lord in Boston and one of the most dangerous gangsters in U.S. history.
Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger, along with co-stars Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson.
The screenplay for Black Mass was written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, who each saw how the neighbourhood ties that bound Connolly and Bulger formed a knot that couldn’t be undone. Mallouk says, “It’s about how ambition erased the better part of the good works Connolly achieved when he started out in the FBI. He wanted to save Boston from the Italian mob; that was his intention when he put his toe in the pool and started helping Whitey. He thought it would be a mutually beneficial relationship. But there is no putting your toe in the pool with someone like Whitey Bulger. You’re underwater right away.”
“It becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog,” adds Butterworth. “This force Connolly was hoping to harness on behalf of the FBI ends up the other way around, with Whitey holding the reins. Anyone who wasn’t so embroiled with Bulger would probably have recognised what was happening, but for some reason Connolly didn’t.”
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) was immediately attracted to the story, “I tend to be drawn to the deeply tragic and the deeply human and this film offered up both. It’s almost Shakespearean in nature and dealt with themes I like to explore: corruption, deceit and hubris, all wrapped into a narrative I felt it would be very interesting to mine.”
The producers knew that Cooper was the right choice to capture the themes of deception, ambition and often misguided loyalty woven throughout the film. John Lesher recalls “when we met with Scott, one of the things he said to me, which I loved, was that he wanted to focus on the characters as people first. Then he would sort of pivot the point of view and show what they were up to. I think he really achieved that without making them sympathetic or excusing their actions.”
“Scott Cooper is a rare talent,” Depp attests. “I was blown away by Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace —the depth he exhibited that you might not expect from a relative newcomer—and I really wanted to work with him. On the set, I found it remarkable that this was only his third film. I was stupefied by his ability, the strength of his vision and his passion. He ate, drank and slept this film. I mean, the dude’s amazing; I’d shoot the telephone book with him,” the actor adds, emphasizing, “I would! I have tremendous respect for him; he’s a great filmmaker with an enormous future.”
Black Mass is a film that we have been excited about for a long time here at Showcase. It has been a while since we’ve had a gritty crime thriller to feast on. With the themes of deception and betrayal in Black Mass, it led Showcase to look at some of the best ‘Movie Snitches’. Here are our top three:
HENRY HILL (RAY LIOTTA), GOODFELLAS (1990)
Mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and long-time partner Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) tell fellow gangster Henry Hill to stop selling cocaine - Hill (Ray Liotta) continues to do so, which eventually leads to the Feds nabbing him and him snitching on his gangland bosses. A lifetime of being an "average nobody" in Witness Protection is his reward.
DAVID KLEINFELD (SEAN PENN), CARLITO’S WAY (1993)
Penn’s lawyer David Kleinfeld decides to turn snitch on mobster Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), who’s also a friend and client, after becoming the object of a federal investigation. It doesn’t end well for Kleinfeld or Brigante.
FRANK COSTELLO (JACK NICHOLSON), THE DEPARTED (2006)
How do you stay one step ahead of Boston’s finest? Mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) is an informant, dishing up rival gangsters to save his own hide. The Departed is loosely based on the real-life case of Whitey Bulger, as depicted in Black Mass.
Black Mass opens at Showcase Cinemas November 27