Release Date: September 18, 2015
Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, Dick Lehr (book), Gerard O’Neill (book)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, W. Earl Brown, Bill Camp, Juno Temple, Mark Mahoney, Brad Carter, Scott Anderson, Lonnie Farmer, Mary Klug, Erica McDermott, Luke Ryan, Owen Burke
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes
Production Company: Cross Creek Pictures, Le Grisbi Productions, Infinitum Nihil, Free State Pictures, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Ridgerock Entertainment Group, Vendian Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama
Budget: $65,000,000 (estimated)
Many including myself, thought that the best of Johnny Depp was behind us. His latest performances give this impression. His future showed no promise, and his popularity had started to drift. Time after time, his talents were wasted on goofy roles that only embarrassed him among his fans, and he faded out of the spotlight. It was a shame to witness his decline, like watching the slow-sinking Titanic and not being able to help.
I’m delighted to say, those days may be gone. Johnny Depp took on James “Whitey” Bulger, who is considered the most infamously violent criminal in South Boston, in this true telling of history during the 1970s and 80s. Without any hesitation, I can say that this is one of the best performances of the year, and definitely puts Depp back on the map as an all-star. The cast is strong and chills your bones, but the story isn’t the grand slam you desire. However, the acting does still knock a few out the park that will be remembered for some time.
Diving in head-first, Johnny Depp soaked up everything he could for the role. He was the gangster in question in every way. From the flawless make-up to the detailed persona, I was convinced with his acting on screen. He was able to turn his face in such a way that displayed constant pain in every muscle. When he was tensed I was too, and when he relaxed my mental state followed. It makes you realize that his magic never left, but was dormant as a result of his recent association with poor scripts.
He isn’t the only one that shined. Everyone involved pulled their weight, with Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch being just as great. Cumberbatch’s presence on the screen was brief, in his role as the state senator, but I adored his Boston accent. Edgerton played FBI agent Connolly as a flustered stoic man. It is clear that Connolly is desperate to do the best with the cards that are dealt to him. If this story is a true account of events he did his part setting the necessary emotion for his character. I sense the exact emotion he conveyed was the correct one for the occasion.
While hands down the acting takes the cake, the story has a harder time delivering what was promised. Knowing little going in, I anticipated seeing a violent gangster. I got a great performance, but not of a vicious killer. Other than one particular scene in which Marianne Connolly (Julianne Nicholson) was present and Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) showed his horns, I was left in the wind. Other than your average kill shot up close, every encounter of Bulger was either talked about or shown off screen. For a film to be marketed as such, please give me the violence. I need to be shown how dangerous a person is and not told. Unless it was a metaphor stemming from his overall connection to a given situation, I was unsatisfied. There were too many instances that were left on the cutting room floor to sell his true carnage. Maybe I misinterpreted his character, but I wanted more than what was shown.
As I stated earlier, Depp’s portrayal is fantastic as a cold man who has a heart deep down, but the flow of the film is just as cold. It’s back and forth drawing you in and out with no consistency. At times I’m at the edge of my seat from the intense dialogue or a worthy performance, and at other times I’m breathing heavy not interested, gasping for the next frame. I’m not saying that certain elements were bad, but when you aim so high during some scenes and hit your target, I expect the same effort or outcome for the whole duration of the film.
Without much experience, director Scott Cooper was at the helm. During the beginning of the film, it was difficult to indulge. His decision to always start a scene dead center symmetrical to its surroundings showed no vision or creativity. Imagine the best performances shot by an amateur who was too afraid to take a leap. Towards the middle, he finally made it to his confront zone, in which showed he can handle the tools he’s given.
Overall it’s worth your time and will have the masses talking. The performances made up for the slack that the story wasn’t able to provide. The story was still solid but didn’t grab me the way I had hoped. It came across as another average gangster who ran out on all his luck. It will, for sure, get Oscar attention – but my vote won’t be included. Yet that depends on what you’re looking for in this form of entertainment. It’s great to see Depp back on top of his game, and I’m back on board anticipating his next feature film. Black Mass will be respected as a history lesson of the past, but I still felt a heavier impact after watching American Gangster.