Johnny Depp’s deep brown eyes are made blue with contact lenses, adding a level of creepiness to his performance as we gaze at him and try to get through to the real man underneath all of that makeup and fake hair. Depp succeeds in portraying Whitey Bulger, a man of complexity, one of the worst gangsters in South Boston– based on historical records left by the FBI. For example, Bulger killed at least ten men in the course of doing business in order to either eliminate competition or improve the smooth flow of money. These men are buried at the river Charles under the bridge in a place that is known as Bulger’s Boneyard.
He also would help his old English teacher as she returned from the grocery store with a full cart. Jimmy Bulger attended to his mother who loved to cheat at cards and he also taught his son how to beat up bullies, when no one was looking, because that way it didn’t happen, no one saw. The British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, plays Whitey’s brother, Billy, who is a state senator, and would go on to become the president of the University of Massachusetts.
But mostly Jimmy was a kingpin in his dark neighborhood where he ran rackets, sold drugs, etc. Murders were sometimes necessary to enforce the code of keeping silent when the law came sniffing around to see what was what.
My problem with the movie is the point of view, told largely through an FBI agent, John Connolly, who got Bulger to act as an informant for the Bureau in order to get to the Italian mob. The rationale was that both the Bureau and Bulger’s gang would eliminate a common enemy. But the agent, Connolly, went farther than just getting Bulger to help with inside information. Connolly became one of the the gang, and was corrupted by them. Connolly’s constant need to be praised and considered successful, to play both sides of the street makes him come off as neurotic and irritating.
Another problem I have with the movie is how much of the venal side of things, the bribes, and the special treatment, was left out. Maybe they weren’t allowed to show how cases of expensive wine would be delivered to the bureau with money secured inside the boxes. It is clear that Connolly is not doing his job properly, yet somehow the movie expects the audience to feel sympathy for him.
There are many good performances in the film. Besides Depp, the other informers such as Jesse Plemons as Kevin Weeks, Rory Cochrane as Steve Flemmi and Peter Sarsgaard as Brian Halloran are convincing as criminals who were backed into a corner and had to turn evidence against their partners in order to avoid heavy jail time. These men add a level of soulfulness that the character of Connolly just can’t match. The women who are treated shamefully are all excellent, especially a very young Juno Temple who just about breaks your heart.