Johnny Depp is no handsome hero in Scott Cooper's blood-curdling crime drama, Black Mass. With a receding hairline, a really bad set of teeth and a spine-chilling gaze that darts across in seamlessly swift movements, our man Depp gives his career-best performance in Black Mass, which just played at the ongoing Venice Film Festival. He is James 'Whitey' Bulger, whose bone-chilling methods in the movie are so very authentically portrayed that one literally forgets that one is watching Johnny Depp, that handsome guy -- who in his earlier gangster films came as mostly dashing and debonair… and utterly lovable.This calls for guts, and one saw this at a press conference he gave soon after the screening of Black Mass. To a mischievous question about the dogs he was told to remove from Australia, he quipped that he ate them all up! He was re-enacting Bulger, a Boston gangster, who throttles a prostitute to death and then calmly walks into a dinner party.
Black Mass is a fascinating portrayal of the Boston underworld of the 1970s. The bad men have long sideburns and long hair, while the FBI agents wear neat-looking suits with broad lapels and ties with huge knots.
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And Bulger wearing blue eye lenses is surrounded by a motley group of men in his Winter Hill gang. We have Earl Brown as Chubby, Johnny Martorano, the group's wily executioner, Stephen as Rifleman Flemmi and so on in a film that is linear and appears delightfully old-worldly.
Depp -- who steals the show from start to finish -- told the press conference that he did try meeting the real Bulger, now in prison. But he refused. His lawyer, however, visited the sets twice and was bowled over by Depp's "impersonation" of Bulger. What more do movie villains need? What more does an actor need?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice Film Festival.)