Just when we thought we didn’t like Johnny Depp anymore, here he is doing what appears to be quality work again portraying notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass. If he looks and sounds like Jack Nicholson, particularly in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, that’s partly because that character was partly based on Bulger. He actually sounds more like Nicholson as Frank Costello and Ray Liotta’s aged Henry Hill in Goodfellas than the real Bulger. Unlike Depp’s other portrayal of a balding icon in the Hunter S. Thompson adaptation Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, here he may not be attempting full authenticity but rather one of his hodgepodge characterizations.
Either way, that main steak dinner scene at the center of this first trailer is intense, and the extended showcase of Depp’s creepy-eyed performance piques our interest. As does the whole ensemble, which we barely get a look at here. Black Mass also stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, Adam Scott and his mustache, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson and Peter Sarsgaard. And that’s David Harbour being put on the spot by Bulger about his family recipe.
Unlike a fictionalized character like Costello, there are sure to be concerns with Depp’s and this movie’s portrayal of a real man responsible for the deaths of a lot of real people as well as a number of other crimes that affected even more real people. Will we be expected to enjoy or at least be entertained by things Bulger does in this movie, as playfully embodied by an actor we’ve come to root for as a pirate, a drug dealer a drug fiend, a murderous barber, a mad hatter, a vampire, another legendary gangster?
The movie features a screenplay by Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) and Mark Mallouk (A Walk Among the Tombstones) based on Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” and is directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace). It doesn’t hit theaters until September 18th, but if you’re dying to learn more about Bulger before then, you should check out Joe Berlinger’s documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, which focuses on the subject’s 2013 trial. You can currently stream it on Netflix. Watch the trailer for that one here: