Directed by Scott Cooper
Written by Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon
Whitey Bulger (Depp) has a brother (Cumberbatch) who is a Senator, and a strong connection with the F.B.I.. He also happens to be the leader of a violent gang of criminals in South Boston. This is the remarkable true story of his rise and fall.
This film is based on the incredible true story of Whitey Bulger. Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace), who made his directing debut with 2009’s Crazy Heart, directed this one. The screenplay was written by Mark Mallouk (A Walk Among the Tombstones), Jez Butterworth (Spectre), Dick Lehr, and Gerard O’Neill. The all-star cast includes Johnny Depp (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), Joel Edgerton (Warrior), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (The Social Network), and Kevin Bacon (Flatliners).
The true story behind this film is one of the more interesting chapters in American criminal history. The story the film chose to tell is a sweeping look at a number of important years in Bulger’s career. The successful moments in the script come from the moments when Bulger’s brutality is on full display. The writing does a nice job of showing his cold and calculating behavior. The overall sense of corruption is also nicely written into the story. The weakness of this script is the method of storytelling. Instead of following the main character, the story is told from the perspective of a number of less interesting people. These moments seem to put the story on hold. In a jailhouse confession sort of way, these people all open up to tell Bulger’s story for him. While some of this may have come from actual transcripts or court documents, it doesn’t work in the film. The pacing of the film suffers due to the way the exposition is handled. While this has some very interesting parts, the overall experience is somewhat disappointing.
Despite the poorly written script, there are some moments where the actors really shine. Johnny Depp does a very good job bringing out the brutality and the duplicitous nature of his character to life. Like he did in Blow, he was able to transform himself physically to fit the role. Joel Edgerton also did a nice job with his role in the film. Like Depp, he seemed to do a great job transforming into his character. Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, and Benedict Cumberbatch also do a good job with their roles. Unfortunately, none of the stars was able to truly elevate the material. With the exception of small moments throughout the film, this one doesn’t offer a lot from the stars.
The production work on the film is solid. The way that the era was reproduced really stood out. The costuming, makeup, sets, and locations all felt authentic to the time and the locations. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Spotlight) created some nice moments with the camera work in this one. This film has a lot of nice things that just don’t come together like they should have.
Unfortunately, the weaknesses in the story couldn’t be overcome by the small successes in the other aspects of the production. If you’re a huge fan of true story films or crime dramas, this might be worth checking out. Some fans of Depp might also enjoy this one. Otherwise this might be a tough sell. I give this one 2.5 out of 5 stars.