Cities are known for many things. We associate Paris with art, New York with theatre, and Washington D.C. with politics. Unfortunately, sometimes cities can be recognized for their less-wholesome aspects. Despite Boston’s numerous tourist and cultural attractions, many people associate it with crime. While the Italian-based mafia tended to be based out of New York City, the Irish-based mob usually congregated in Boston. As a result, there have been several films which use the crime-filled underground of Boston as their backdrop and central conflict. That’s not to say that every film about crime in Boston is about the mafia; in fact, Spotlight (2015) highlighted the Boston Globe’s uncovering of a sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Still, the “exciting” action films tend to focus on the mafia. This week’s two films examine mafia crime in Boston.
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours
Because the mafia is outside the law, sometimes they can perform actions to bring about their own form of justice. Especially with a tight-knit group like the Irish-Americans who control the mafia in Boston, the ties that bind them together are based in their nationality. This notion of an extended family means that members will do whatever it takes to look out for one of their own. Sometimes the legal process is too slow, so they’ll take matters into their own hands. The Boondock Saints (1999) is a prime example of this, as two brothers take on the Russian mafia to clean up Boston. Similarly, the friendships built through growing up in some of Boston’s tough neighborhoods, like Charlestown, can lead people to join the mafia as their only means of making a living. In The Town (2010), we find how difficult it can be to escape this life of crime.
Fergus Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) is the leader of an Irish-American crime ring that runs out of the Charlestown section of Boston. Four childhood friends work underneath him, including Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke). These four rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage, eventually releasing her unharmed. Unfortunately, not only does she live in the same neighborhood and could potentially identify Jem, but Doug develops feelings for her as well. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is closing in on the group and manages to kill or capture most of them during a heist at Fenway Park. Not wanting to put Claire in danger, Doug flees to Florida to try and find his estranged mother, leaving Claire with the stolen money and the wish to meet up again.
Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours
As mentioned earlier, the connections of the Irish-Americans in Boston lead to some strange bedfellows. The famous mobster, Whitey Bulger, was portrayed by Johnny Depp in Black Mass (2015), a film that showed how he was able to evade capture for so long: a South Boston friend involved with the FBI keeping Bulger a few steps ahead of the feds. Similarly, the connections between the Boston mafia and those who are tasked to take them down are often tightly tied together. These familial connections muddle the waters of characters’ moral intentions. Should they remain faithful to the group that gave them their identity and heritage, or should they bring these criminals to justice? This complex and twist-laden plot is best attributed to Martin Scorsese’s only Best Picture win, The Departed (2006). After all, the best director to handle a film about the mafia is none other than Martin Scorsese.
Growing up in South Boston, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is brought under the wing of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a mobster who uses Colin to infiltrate the police. Years later, Colin has joined a task force focused on bringing down the very mafia that raised him. Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is recruited by the police to go undercover into the mob because he also has family ties to the seedy world of organized crime. As Billy and Colin interact in their different spheres, their loyalties are questioned as each tries to figure out who the respective moles in their organizations are. The back-and-forth game of cat and mouse (or rat) continues until they eventually learn of the true identities of the other. In a bloody string of murders, both the police and the mafia are left with losses, revealing the harsh reality of crime in Boston: nobody gets out alive.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mafia movies in Massachusetts