Scott Cooper‘s true crime drama “Black Mass” had its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Friday. And the first wave of reviews are heaping praise Johnny Depp for his performance as Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, who acted as an FBI informant for more than three decades. Cooper — whose first film, “Crazy Heart,” won Jeff Bridges the Best Actor Oscar in 2009 after four losses — could be a good luck charm as well for Depp, a three-time also-ran at the Academy Awards.
Depp has contended three times already for Best Actor (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” 2003; “Finding Neverland,” 2004; “Sweeney Todd,” 2007). Now, for this change-of-pace performance in “Black Mass,” he sits in fourth place on our Oscar prediction chart for Best Actor, with the backing of three of our Oscar experts and one of our editors.
Critics singled out Depp in their rave reviews of this Warner’s release (see below), which will also screen at the Telluride and Toronto filmfests before opening on Sept. 18. After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Actor. Don’t worry, you can keep changing them right up until nominations are announced on Jan. 14.
Justin Chang (Variety) enthused: “Depp (gives) the kind of less-is-more performance the actor has scarcely been asked to deliver in the post-‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ era. And Depp more than rises to the occasion, doing career-best work as a man who might easily have been played for ghoulish caricature (a la Jack Nicholson in ‘The Departed’), but instead emerges as a complex, undeniably charismatic figure who draws other criminals and lawmen alike into his cult of sociopathic personality.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) observed: “Depp, who takes control of the proceedings from the outset and never yields it, except for when he disappears for a while in the second half. He’s as charismatic as his character must be, fully convincing and frightening as his Bulger toys with friends and enemies alike to keep them guessing, hides his true intentions and dishes out punishment at an alarming rate. Depp’s instinct for observing, underlaying and keeping things in, then letting it all out when required, pays big dividends here in a performance far more convincing than his previous big gangster role, John Dillinger in Michael Mann‘s ‘Public Enemies’; it’s unexpected, very welcome at this point in his career, and one of his best.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) noted: “Johnny Depp’s South Boston wiseguy James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, with his shaven bald head and weird blue eyes is a fully accredited sociopath with a groany-deep voice like Ray Liotta in ‘GoodFellas.’ He even has a ‘Funny, how?’ moment like Joe Pesci from the same film: kidding around and persuading his corrupt FBI associate over dinner into divulging the secret family recipe for his steak dish, then turning very nasty about how easily his dining companion can be induced to spill the beans, and then uproariously pretending to have been kidding once everyone around the table has turned white with shock.”
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Photo: Johnny Depp in “Black Mass.” Credit: REX