Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA/United Kingdom, 2015. Cross Creek Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Head Gear Films, Vendian Entertainment. Screenplay by Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, based on the book by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill. Cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi. Produced by Scott Cooper, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson. Music by Junkie XL. Production Design by Stefania Cella. Costume Design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone. Film Editing by David Rosenbloom. Toronto International Film Festival 2015. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
Combining a true-life crime figure who was larger than life with the tradition of charismatic mob dramas that have been coming from the Warner Bros logo for decades should have provided for another Long Good Friday, something residing comfortably between gritty drama and the sexy mythologizing that these films have been thrilling audiences with since the days of Cagney of Edward G. Robinson. Instead, laughable Boston accents and bad makeup turn the last years of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s reign of Boston’s crime-infested south side into a joke. Johnny Depp, in ill-fitting wig and the contact lenses he must have used in Alice In Wonderland, plays the amoral gangster who makes sure every kid on the streets of his hood has access to his drugs, while his brother (Benedict Cumberbatch, who couldn’t be more miscast if it was Maggie Smith in the role) is a state senator who in this film reacts to his brother like he’s always struggling to get him to school on time. Joel Edgerton plays a Federal agent who has known Bulger since childhood and cooks up the scheme to convince his superiors that he will turn the man into an informant to help take down a mafia family; what they don’t know is that Bulger is actually participating as a way to get the Italians off his turf. History has well recorded what went down, which is why it is odd that this film offers no insights beyond headline bullet points, with just a few added dramatic scenes highlighting the put-upon women who are forced to share a world with these bland characters. Dakota Johnson is talented enough to come out of the situation unscathed, and Julianne Nicholson has some good moments being intimidated by Depp, but the rest of it is just a strange mess that never finds its centre.