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Metro In Focus: Johnny Depp dealt a good hand as a bad guy

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 2.30.00 PMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Black Mass sees Johnny Depp playing Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a crime lord-turned-FBI-informant who ruled South Boston and was also the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed.

Bulger was a community minded cold-blooded killer. He loved his neighbourhood, kids, cats and choking people to death with his bare hands.

Depp says “a responsibility to history and truth to some degree” was very important to him going into the project.

“When you’re playing someone who exists or existed,” he says, “there’s a tremendous kind of amount of responsibility, at least for me, no matter whether they’re deemed good or bad or whatever. You have a responsibility to that person.”

The fifty-two year old actor’s performance is already earning early Oscar buzz for the chilling authenticity he brings to a man described in the film as “ripened psychopath.”

Director Scott Cooper says, “I don’t think people come to narrative features for the facts, or for truth. I think you go to documentaries for that. What you do come to narrative features for is psychological truth, emotion and deep humanity. I did not want to make a film strictly about criminals who happened to be humans. I wanted to make a film about humans who happened to be criminals.”

Like many underworld figures, Bulger created his own mythology based on his exploits, making it difficult for co-screenwriter Mark Mallouk and Cooper to discern what was true and what wasn’t.

“Jimmy Bulger had his version of the truth which was different from (accomplice) Stephen Flemmi’s,” said the director, “that was different from (henchman) Kevin Weeks and (hitman) John Martorano. I had to determine what was the story I was going to tell… and tell it as accurately as I could from a very emotional place.”

It’s a hard-edged tale to be sure, fuelled by Bulger’s violent and grim behaviour, but Depp found it best not to judge the character.

“I don’t think any of us wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m so evil. I’m so horrible,’” Depp said. “I approached James Bulger as a human being, who’s multi-faceted and did have a side to him that was human and loving.”

Depp’s performance and the work of his co-stars Dakota Johnson and Joel Edgerton among others, ensure that Black Mass is a complex study of human behaviour, but hopefully, according to Mallouk, not a glamorous one.

“None of wanted anyone walking out of the theatre to go, ‘I want to be Whitey Bulger,’” said Mallouk. “You feel that way after Scarface or Goodfellas or after The Godfather, and I love those movies, but there is a responsibility to not do that here. It feels more like Donnie Brasco. We did not want to create more fuel for the Whitey Bulger myth.”

Cooper says his responsibility as a filmmaker and storyteller was with “the victim’s families because Jimmy Bulger and the men we chronicle in this film left a deep emotional scar on the city of Boston that is still very fresh and widely felt.

“I care what they think about the film and I hope I didn’t trivialize these events.”

In real life Bulger, now eighty-six years old and serving two life terms plus five years at a penitentiary in Florida, was convicted of racketeering, money laundering, extortion, weapons charges and was found to have been involved in 11 murders.

“You talk about six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” says Cooper. “In South Boston or Boston in general it’s two degrees of Whitey Bulger. Everybody had a story and everybody knew him.”


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