From a story point of view, this is your basic mob movie; the fact that it is based on a true story notwithstanding. Mallouk and Butterworth’s (Spectre) script, while good and trying to take a slightly different point of view, trods well-worn ground in the genre. What makes it worthwhile is Johnny Depp’s (Into the Woods) layered performance in both character and make-up. He makes you both like and fear the man, and his make-up is outstanding, utterly changing the face you know into someone else.
Depp is far from the only talent, though. Joel Edgerton (Great Gatsby), Benedict Cumberbatch (Imitation Game), and Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) had the most notable performances supporting the story. Stoll, in particular, stood out since it was the most measured performance I’ve seen him deliver. Peter Sarsgaard (An Education), Jesse Plemons (Bridge of Spies), Rory Cochrane (Oculus), and Kevin Bacon (R.I.P.D.) give nice, if somewhat standard interpretations. Honestly, those performances are probably close to reality, but those ideas are so cliche that it would have been nice to see the story do something a little different with them.
The lack of female mentions is telling for this tale. Though they do exist, they do so primarily as props or for the story to react to rather than with. Juno Temple (Horns), and Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County) have the best roles along those lines. Neither expanded their c.v. significantly with what they delivered, but neither did they diminish their careers.
One odd aspect of the script is the near apologetic tone the story takes on at moments. For instance, bringing up Bulger’s multitudinous acid trips that he participated in to get sentence reductions and the hint that it might have something to do with the off-kilter approach he has to the world and emotions. No one states you should forgive him, but providing an excuse seemed a little odd.
Cooper (Out of the Furnace) directs what he has to work with confidently, adding to his growing reputation. By the time you get to the very end of the film, you are likely going to rethink it all: the irony of the justice system and how it exacts its requirements and its needs.
You have to enjoy mob movies to want to take this trip. It is a solid film, but definitely of a specific genre. It may not be quite the epic Goodfellas is, but it certainly takes on the rise and fall of a particular era and a particular man well.