Johnny Depp stars in this pseudo-biopic of the White Hills Gang leader Whitey Bulger in the 1970’s, how his operation grew and went purposefully unnoticed by the FBI until his downfall.
This film ends up falling in the ‘meh’ category this year for many reasons.
The story telling isn’t great. The narrative shifts from period to period without any significant event making a substantial enough impact to make the film memorable. There are characters who have active involvement with Bulger and we never find out how this came to be, or why. His brother was a state senator and his screen time did nothing to further the plot or bring about anything meaningful of his own. You’d think being related the most ruthless gangster South Boston has known would bring about some drama. There’s also nothing that really makes you care for any of the characters, in fact the only thing that comes across is just how unrealistic and incompetent everyone is.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart/Out of the Furnace) has a very personal and slightly dark style to shooting his films and it suited the tone of this film well. The piece seemed genuine to it’s era and close ups in shots that were emotionally charged were used to good effect. It is the script that lets this film down the most.
Johnny Depp finally turns in a performance that is worth raving about, something I’ve not been able to say since before his Pirates of the Caribbean phase (bar The Rum Diary). He is subtly charismatic and stands out from the rest with an intensity that is needed to portray this sort of gangster. It is therefore a shame that the character was made as sympathetic as he was on screen. It is a difficult balancing act to attempt to try and look at a known killer and see what makes him tick/motivates him and here we get neither. What we get is one significant trauma that actually has no baring on him as a person as he was already a horrible human being before then anyway. Depp’s best moment was his most sinister one and you can’t help feeling if there was more of this it would have given more credence to the film. Instead in many places it just feels hollow.
Everyone else is competent, but just that. Except for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Boston accent. That I’m afraid to say sounds more like he’s getting over a serious cold and is in serious need of a Soother.
Possibly the way should have gone was to show Bulger’s rise to power, his obstacles, and then his downfall in 3 acts. Instead there are a series of events that are never really explained through motives or are impactful enough to make a lasting impression.
Depp’s standout performance can’t stop the faltering story telling in this gangster biopic that never really gets going. Average at best.