Most of Johnny Depp's recent roles have called for him to be cartoonishly eccentric, quirky, and offbeat in his mannerisms/appearance - sometimes for the better (Into the Woods), but more often for worse (The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai). However, Depp's role in the upcoming Black Mass has the potential to get him back in critic's good graces - as he plays the real-life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger: a "character" who's more on the unnerving and sociopathic side of the fence.
Black Mass, which is the second Depp-headlined gangster biopic after Public Enemies, tells the tale of how Bulger made his living as a professional crime boss in Boston - including, how he served as an informant for the FBI, in the bureau's ongoing effort to take down the Italian Mafia. Depp's costars here include Benedict Cumberbatch as Bill Bulger - Whitey's brother and a state senator - as well as Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly.
(And yes, the real-life Whitey Bulger and John Connolly were the inspiration for Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon's characters in The Departed.)
Scott Cooper, who directed Black Mass, described the real Whitey Bulger to EW as being someone who's both charming and ruthless - saying "He was like a cobra - you never know where he could strike." The first official image from Cooper's film (which you can see below) illustrates so much, showing Depp as Whitey Bulger walking away after having killed a man in a parking lot in front of several witnesses - with nary a worry nor hint of concern in his body language.
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Cooper, know for the nitty-gritty character dramas Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, directed Black Mass from a script partly written by Jez Butterworth - the acclaimed scribe behind the biographical movies Fair Game and Get on Up (and acclaimed 2014 sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow). Similarly, the movie boasts lots of noteworthy talent in front of the camera too, with supporting cast members like Juno Temple (Killer Joe), Corey Stoll (The Strain), Kevin Bacon (The Following), Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) - and that list isn't even all-inclusive.
The short of it: Black Mass has the potential to be a return to form for Depp, as well as a showcase for him (and his costars), and an all-around solid piece of true story-based cinematic storytelling. There's a good reason the film made our Most Anticipated Movies list at the beginning of 2015, so here's to hoping the final result proves worthy of that interest (and the artistic talent involved).
Black Mass opens in U.S. theaters on September 18th, 2015.