From the moment the first trailer for Black Mass (out September 18) appeared, you could sense that something special might be brewing with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Those feelings have been confirmed over the weekend as the picture screened at both the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals.
Critical consensus bore one thing out: Depp’s chilling performance is fantastic. Variety went as far to claim it’s his career best work. This reaction made him as instant major contender in the Best Actor race. When I made my initial predictions three days ago, I left him outside the top five. I’m questioning that call. That said, it remains to be seen who among my projected five would move outside the cut to put Depp in. Both Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs seem like real contenders. The most vulnerable performer I predicted may be Michael Caine in Youth, though his legendary status will help. The other two I predicted are question marks as their movies have yet to be screened: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead. And there’s certainly plenty of time for other actors to emerge. For Depp, after a series of both commercial and critical disappointments (Mortdecai anyone?), the opportunity for Academy voters to vault him into contention could be too enticing to pass up.
As for the film itself, a Best Picture nod or Director nom for Scott Cooper seems far less assured. While its Rotten Tomatoes meter sits at 100%, reviewers are divided as to whether Black Mass is great or merely good. Supporting players Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, and Kevin Bacon may not factor into the mix.
However, this Labor Day weekend made one item very clear: Johnny Depp is a player in this year’s Oscar derby. A big one.