Johnny is back from the Depps

Rutherglen Reformer - - The Ticket -

Johnny Depp is no stranger to eye­open­ing trans­for­ma­tions. This is, af­ter all, a star who has played ev­ery­thing from a pi­rate to Tonto, via Willy Wonka and the Mad Hat­ter.

But the 52-year-old has never been less recog­nis­able than in his role here as no­to­ri­ous crime king­pin James “Whitey” Bul­ger.

Di­rec­tor Scott Cooper’s biopic brings the re­mark­able true story of the Bos­ton-based god­fa­ther to the big screen, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on Bul­ger’s time as an FBI in­for­mant backed by agent, and old buddy, John Con­nolly ( Joel Edger­ton).

Jez But­ter­worth (Spec­tre) and de­but scribe Mark Mal­louk wrote the screen­play based on for­mer Bos­ton Globe re­porters Dick Lehr and Ger­ard O’Neill’s book of the same name.

Don’t go in ex­pect­ing a straight-up biopic of Bul­ger from child­hood to prison cell. Told through the eyes of ex-mem­bers of Bul­ger’s Win­ter Hill Gang, the fo­cus is on the gang­ster’s near-decade rise to power.

Even just stick­ing with this pe­riod, there’s still a lot go­ing on and cer­tain char­ac­ters barely pop up long enough to say hello; Jesse Ple­mons’s young hench­man Kevin Weeks, in par­tic­u­lar, is ini­tially set up as a big deal be­fore barely reg­is­ter­ing as the flick pro­gresses.

Cooper (Out of the Fur­nace), though, keeps the en­ergy flow­ing be­hind the cam­era with long and wide shots fram­ing a bustling Bos­ton with char­ac­ter around ev­ery cor­ner.

The violence is pretty un­flinch­ing, with ex­e­cu­tions reg­u­larly tak­ing place in broad daylight but Cooper also knows when to leave things to the au­di­ence’s imag­i­na­tion with heinous acts com­mit­ted off screen, in­clud­ing a ruth­less Bul­ger mur­der that utilises sound and the re­ac­tion of oth­ers to ex­cel­lent ef­fect.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, Black Mass would live or die by its lead­ing man and af­ter threat­en­ing to plum­met into ca­reer sui­cide with a string of flops (Mortdecai, Tran­scen­dence), Depp is back on scin­til­lat­ing form.

Sport­ing blue con­tact lenses, slicked back hair and pale skin, Depp per­fectly jumps be­tween death stares and chilling threats and charis­matic in­ti­mate mo­ments with friends and fam­ily.

The film has courted con­tro­versy over its glamourising of Bul­ger’s char­ac­ter but, though he’s seen charm­ing lit­tle old ladies and dishing out dodgy parental ad­vice, you never lose sight of the mon­ster within.

Ev­ery bit as good as Depp, though, is an im­mense Edger­ton whose loy­alty sees him side with a psy­chopath – and lap up the re­wards.

At ev­ery turn there’s top act­ing tal­ent – Kevin Ba­con, Corey Stall and Peter Sars­gaard among those shin­ing in small­but-key roles – with only Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s wob­bly Bos­ton ac­cent let­ting the side down.

Cooper’s best work yet is no Good­Fel­las but, thanks to stir­ring turns from Depp and Edger­ton and the grip­ping story devel­op­ments, it’s an in­tense drama that packs a punch.

Crime time Johnny Depp stars as the no­to­ri­ous Bul­ger

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