In the role of a 1970s version of real life Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, Johnny Depp looks a lot like Canadian-born character actor (and veteran screen villain) Michael Ironside.
However Ironside is not a big box office draw. And the stakes aren’t as high. Industry insiders prophesied that if Mr. Depp didn’t bring home Oscar gold or at least a sizable profit with Black Mass he could go back to smaller paychecks and smaller films again after pricey, critically panned megaflops like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence and (shudder) Mortdecai. John may have missed out on the Oscar (he wasn’t even nominated) but Black Mass did turn a profit (plus there is yet another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel on the horizon and the eagerly awaited film adaptation of Martin Amis’ London Fields so his current status should be secure.)
Still, it’s enough to make one nostalgic for Mr. Depp’s pre-Jack Sparrow days when the actor was praised for his chameleonic ability to submerge himself in quirky films with debatable box office appeal (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Cry-Baby , Dead Man and Blow … to name just a few).
Under the direction of the estimable Scott Cooper (writer-director of the award-winning Crazy Heart) Mr. Depp is grittily convincing as a ruthless criminal.
But how close is he to the genuine article and how accurate is the film? Well, it depends on who you talk to.
Interviewed from prison (where he is currently serving two life sentences), Mr. Bulger told Britain’s “Daily Mail” Black Mass is “an anti Whitey movie put together by 2 reporters from the Boston Globe. … This movie is pure fiction!’ However, he does admit Mr. Depp looks a lot like the gangster in his 1970s prime.
Mr. Bulger’s lawyer, Hank Brennan, says his client has not seen the film and has no interest in doing so. (Apparently Mr. Depp offered to meet the convicted mobster but he refused through his attorney.)
Longtime Bulger associate Kevin Weeks (depicted in the film by Jesse Plemons. TV’s Breaking Bad) while admitting that “We really did kill those people” characterizes the film as “a fantasy.”