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Venice fest: Black Mass is Johnny Depp's career best

With a receding hairline, a really bad set of teeth and a spine-chilling gaze that darts across in seamlessly swift movements, actor Johnny Depp gives his career-best performance in Black Mass,

world cinema Updated: Sep 09, 2015 12:11 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Black Mass,Johnny Depp,Scott Cooper
Johnny Depp's performance in Black Mass is a far cry from the quirky yet charming characters one has seen him as in Tim Burton movies. (Venice Film Festival)

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.

Johnny Depp in a scene from Black Mass.

Later, he would pulp an informer into a bloody mess, although Bulger himself was one in an unholy alliance with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -- an alliance that helped him get rid of all the rival gangs in Boston. Really, Depp in Black Mass is nothing like the wistfully sweet charmer one has seen of him in Tim Burton movies.

I found the evil in myself long ago: Johnny Depp on Black Mass

Based on a book by the same name by Boston Globe journalists, Black Mass tells the story of Bulger, a lowly Irish-American hoodlum from the south side of the city who became a virtual kingpin of the underworld there -- largely because of the help he got from the FBI. An agent from the organisation, John Connolly, who grew up along with Bulger and greatly admired him, persuades the gangster to turn informer in exchange for protection. Bulger is only too happy with this arrangement that helps him bust the Italian mafia and then take over.

Read: At Venice, sex abuse by priests back in focus with Spotlight

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.

Read: Coimbatore autowallah takes 'write route' to Venice film fest

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.)

First Published: Sep 07, 2015 11:47 IST