Johnny Depp is known as a character chameleon. He seems to transform into any character he’s presented with and with the release of Black Mass on DVD and Blu-Ray™ in the UK on Monday 21st March 2015, I thought I’d take a look at his roles on the wrong side of the law and the similarities they share.
Johnny Depp is known for playing rogues in his career. They come in many guises from cunning book dealer Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate to real-life cocaine giant George Jung in Blow. It’s not the first time Depp has played a gangster either, going undercover as one in Donnie Brasco, playing John Dillinger in Public Enemies and of course, as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.
In Black Mass, Depp portrays Bulger as a gangster with humanity, a man who clearly adores his family and is loyal to his friends and family to the core, but God forbid should you cross him. As George Jung in Blow, Depp shares the same love for family as does his innocent character in Nick of Time who finds himself in a pickle as he’s being forced to assassinate a politician. Family often means a lot to the characters Johnny Depp plays even if their choice of career or life path is a questionable one.
In Donnie Brasco, Johnny Depp plays a police officer who’s gone undercover to infiltrate the local mafia, tagging along with Al Pacino’s Lefty. In this film, like many that deal with undercover jobs, Depp’s character grows to enjoy his role within the mafia and the company he keeps within it. The loyalty and brotherhood is something which strikes a chord with him and ultimately breaks down his marriage as he drifts into this new life of crime.
As George Jung in Blow, Depp finds himself slipping into the lucrative cocaine business after successfully selling marijuana to students. The rise of Jung’s career is glamourised in a fashion but despite the bright colours, fun and frolics displayed on-screen, the consequence of his actions feel real and are emotionally poignant. The loss of his family through his actions is the most critical blow to the character of Jung. Serving a sentence is one thing but being torn away from your family, disappointing and not being there for your own child is something which tears his heart out and for which he yearns to set right.
The reality of Depp’s interpretation of James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass is grittier than these previous outings though you can find similarities in style and feel of the movie to Donnie Brasco. As Bulger, Depp reveals a man who’s pure ambition will take him to the top and his stronger-than-concrete bonds with his childhood friends give him an opportunity not to pass up. Outside of his criminal dealings, Bulger is a loving father who adores his child and likewise, he will do anything for his own brother Billy and his mother. Though for humanity outside of this circle, life is not so simple. Snitch and you’ll be killed. Talk too much and you’ll be snuffed out. Sharing secrets or knowledge of Whitey will see him paying you a visit which will most likely involve your last breath. He’s a frightening human being and although he is still a human with a heart that he obviously shares with his family, he won’t think twice about murdering anyone who’ll sabotage his rise to the top or threaten his freedom. With fingers in many pies, from drugs to vending machines, Jimmy is a powerful persona in the South Boston and Massachusetts community and no-one knows that better than the FBI.
In my opinion, Jimmy Bulger stands to be the most dislikable character Johnny Depp has ever played. In previous movies, his characters can be wicked but there always seems to be a redeeming goodness about them. In Black Mass, Jimmy is terrifying, particularly when he deals with business himself. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Jimmy will do what he thinks needs to be done without a care, afterthought of shred of guilt.
Depp had quite a transformation to play Bulger opting for striking blue contact lenses to give an authentic look to his portrayal whilst special make-up and prosthetics were used to transform the actor we know into the likeness of the Boston gangster.
Discover the story for yourself with Black Mass on DVD and Blu-Ray™ from Monday 21st March 2016.