You always see Francine Maisler’s name on movie credits. She cast “Birdman.” This year she has “Steve Jobs.” She also put together the people in “Black Mass.”
If Scott Cooper’s movie about Whitey Bulger is a hit, and it will be, credit Francine. The cast of “Black Mass” following star Johnny Depp is pitch perfect without a mistake. The supporting players do exactly what they’re supposed to– illuminate Depp’s solid, if sometimes ephemeral, performance.
I am talking about Joel Edgerton as bad FBI guy John Connolly, Kevin Bacon as the CBI chief, Corey Stoll as the DA, Jesse Plemons as Bulger’s lackey, David Harbour as Edgerton’s partner, and Rory Cochrane as Bulger’s stooge. Peter Sarsgaard gives the most colorful and fun performance as as a druggie informant. Julianne Nicholson is harrowing as Edgerton’s wife.
The group of them are among the best ensembles ever, very Scorsese like. Indeed, director Scott Cooper has a made a violent but entertaining film that is Scorsese-ish. I guess there’s no getting around that. It’s from the Scorsese School of Gangster Movies. And that isn’t a bad thing.
Depp is the best he’s been in years, maybe since “Finding Neverland.” He’s low key, restrained, embedded in Bulger. His “Pirates” tics, which ran rampant in “The Lone Ranger,” are eradicated. His features are too fine, and his face a little too pretty to be an exact lookalike for Bulger, the psychopathic Boston gangster who killed people remorselessly with his bare hands. But Depp is great at the too-bright eyes shining from a dark skull.
What “Black Mass” doesn’t really explain is why Whitey is a murdering maniac and his brother, Bill, played with the usual panache by Benedict Cumberbatch, is the opposite: pillar of the community, suave, successful politician. All we know is they have a sainted Irish mother who’s also a card shark. Whitey, like most Depp characters, remains an enigma, and a cypher.
Will “Black Mass” bring Depp back to the Oscars. I think so. It’s hard to say. Edgerton is a cinch for Supporting nomination. Watch him toward the end when things start going against Connolly. Edgerton’s face actually collapses as Corey Stoll lays into him. Amazing.