Sunday, September 20, 2015

Johnny Depp "Kills It" in Black Mass

If there had been one criticism of Johnny Depp in recent years, it was that his selection of roles was, at times, questionable. It's hard to bring to mind the last time he was truly compelling and able to get the audience lost in his character. He was a riot in 21 Jump Street's remake a few years back, though.

But Depp had to an extent become an avante garde version of Adam Sandler.

"What about Jack Sparrow?"

Nope. That is simply Depp turned up a notch similar to pro wrestlers getting into character.

No, to tap into that reserve of talent isn't simply bumping it up a notch. It's immersing yourself in the character and turning it up to eleven. Depp does that in Black Mass, engulfing himself in evil as James "Whitey" Bulger. At times you almost feel guilty for enjoying his performance so much. His scenes are just pure evil, with the littlest of motions able to make your skin crawl. His thick, raspy Boston accent exudes a next-level nastiness.

The basic premise behind the film is that FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) needs to take down the Italian mafia. He sees Bulger as that key, and will sacrifice his moral compass for the glory that comes with such a high profile coup.

The scene where they discuss the deal and its benefits takes place in a small alleyway, with Bulger creeping up on Connolly. It's the baddest man in town with the guy who is supposed to represent all that is good in the world. While I want to bring to mind Bulger being the Joker to Connolly's Batman, it's more fitting to make Connolly in to Harvey Dent. He's supposed to be the best of the best, but at his deepest is just as corruptible as anyone else. But Bulger is definitely the Joker, and Depp's tour de force performance makes me recall how the depths in which Heath Ledger went to play the Joker in 2008's Dark Knight.

This review would not be complete without a brief shout-out to the make-up crew as well.  Transforming Depp into the notorious murderer could have gone awry in the wrong hands, but the hair, skin, eyes and even his teeth are very accurate and supplement the realness of Depp's Bulger.

While there are more than a few graphic scenes in the film, the one that stands out most to me is the bone-chilling scene where Bulger is over at Connolly's house for dinner. Connolly discloses his wife's absence is because she is sick, yet that does not deter Bulger. He heads to the bedroom, knocks on the door, surprising Marianne Connolly (Julianne Nicholson). He proceeds to call her bluff and violate her subtly, checking for a fever by placing his hand on her face and throat all the while making her feel incredibly uneasy with his choice of words.

"We wouldn't want anything to happen to you, now would we?"

His vague threats are enough to cause her to break down immediately, and for the viewer to wonder what the hell just happened.

On the flip side of the coin is a Bulger that actually has a heart. He is riding in the car in one scene and asks the driver to stop so he can check in on an older woman who he holds in high regard, greeting her with a hug and assisting her with her bags. His heart is later on display when he interacts with his son who later dies, flipping an absolutely evil switch in Bulger that can't be turned off.

This film was designed to glamorize the life of Bulger, yet Bulger's camp doesn't seem too impressed by it despite glowing reviews across the board.

"Johnny Depp might as well have been playing the Mad Hatter all over again as far as James Bulger is concerned," Bulger's defense attorney Hank Brennan says. "Hollywood greed is behind the rush to portray my client, and the movie missed the real scourge created in my client's case, the real menace to Boston during that time and in other mob cases around the country – the federal government's complicity in each and every one of those murders with the top echelon informant program."

Also not impressed by the film? The victims' families.

While Edgerton's Connolly is at first thought to be the protagonist, it's Depp's vehicle to get Bulger over making him a rare dual protagonist/antagonist- a one man ying-yang.

The movie is also designed to remind people of Depp's abilities. This is not to take away from a stacked cast which includes Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch. While 2007's The Departed comes to mind as a movie that was stocked with plenty of questionable Boston accents, everyone's in Black Mass comes off as legitimate and not over the top.

Black Mass is at a respectable two hours and two minutes, and does not drag on at all. Every scene serves a purpose and tells the narrative quite well. If you are looking for accuracy, though, check out Whitey: United States of America v. James Bulger:

All in all, it's a superb film from director Scott Cooper who manages to capture the gritty look and feel of 1970's/1980's Boston, and a range of emotions not only from Depp, but his entire cast.

Rating: *****

No comments:

Post a Comment