There are elements of "Black Mass" that are compelling. I must say again that truth is more sensational than fiction and the Bulger Family saga is at times too sensational to believe. Imagine submitting a script where Al Capone and Mayor Daley are brothers. "No. Sorry. Tone down the coincidence and you might have a story. The most powerful OC figure in the state just happens to have a brother who is the most powerful politician in the state? C'mon!"
There are so many facets to this story and almost everyone in New England has at least one "six degrees of separation" with the Bulger Family. I am a virtual recluse and I have several myself. It is hard to capture or convey the enmeshment that was Massachusetts.
Where "Black Mass" fails grandly, grossly and irredeemably is in the treatment of the FBI and FBI corruption. "Black Mass" should have been called "White Wash."
Frustratingly, Hollywood practices a long-term bias against displaying institutional corruption. It used to make movies like "And Justice For All" and "Serpico" (which was first a book by Peter Maas.) One, an original fictional screenplay and one a biopic (both with Al Pacino in the lead role) give us a glimpse of systems "out of order." One could say that "Serpico" actually reveals an orderly system of widespread illegality that allows the players to navigate a broken system but the system is broken nonetheless.
Fast forward to "The Big Easy." Spoiler alert, if that term applies to movies so terrible they are spoiled before they are showcased. Corruption in New Orleans and hero himself is tainted. Corruption is blamed on two bad apples. Bad apples smashed and hero marries crusading innocent.
"True Believer." Convoluted script but the essence is that there is nothing wrong with the system. Just one bad apple and that bad apple is removed from the barrel. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
"Hurricane." I did not see this movie because I read to reviews and didn't think I could sit through it. The story of Hurricane Carter has a lot of angles: racism, poverty, celebrity, the zeitgeist of a volcanic era. Even the brain dead critics could not let this one pass. Again, I did not see it but on its release, "Hurricane" was panned for reducing a complicated story to, you guessed it: one bad apple.
I don't see Hollywood exploring institutional corruption anytime soon. Movies are now made by people who grew up with televison. Television as a sponsor-driven medium does not challenge the status quo. Television is an ongoing public relations segment for the criminal justice system. Do you ever get the feeling when you watch a police drama, that no matter what the title is, you are watching the same show? "Law & Order," "Criminal Minds," "CSI," "X-Files" ad infinatum...it's all from the same vat?
If that sounds like an overstatement, I can almost guarantee you that they treat one subject exactly the same. Nothing wrong with the system that removing one bad apple won't correct. Hollywood is now in the hands of people whose worldview is dominated not by literature or stage or Scripture or even other movies, but rather by the simplistic perspective of the boob tube.
Returning to the specifics of FBI wrongdoing, especially the Boston field office, I refer you to Wikipedia's summary of the life of FBI Agent, H. Paul Rico. Rico has been scrubbed from "Black Mass." Too bad. Next to James Bulger himself, Rico might be the most significant real life character.
The idea that John Connolly introduced criminality to the FBI in 1975 is insulting to the viewer. Go back ten years and Rico et al (read FBI) is complicit in a murder and sends four innocent men to prison to protect a notorious organized crime figure (Joseph Barboza.) Significantly, this is not the only blemish on Agent Rico's career. He would die in jail awaiting trial for the murder of Roger Wheeler, an event covered in the movie without the mention of Rico's assistance in the crime.
Also significant is Rico's close association with J. Edgar Hoover. As a fan and loyalist, H. Paul styled his moniker on J. Edgar. He was rumored to be a member of the most exclusive inner circle within the FBI, the gay contingent that included Hoover and Clyde Tolson. Years later, a House Committee would reveal that Hoover knew of and allowed (and possibly facilitated) Rico's criminality.
I understand deleting events, scenes and characters for brevity sake. H. Paul Rico however, is too crucial to the story to be left on the cutting room floor. It's like omitting the demon from "The Exorcist" or Elliot Ness from "The Untouchables" or Butch Cassidy from that buddy movie..
"Black Mass" is not just disappointing, it is insulting for its cowardice. Seven word summary: Agents Morris And Connally: Two Bad Apples.