Take your shot, but make it your best. Cause I get up . . . I eat you.
This film just really, really worked for me. I mean, the “stop the presses” moment is Johnny Depp, finally giving a great performance again. I admit that I’d kind of given up on this ever really happening again, but, God bless him, Depp’s performance as psychopathic Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is a performance that I’ll put up there on the shelf next to his best. Yes, there’s the makeup and the eyes and the hair, but behind those accoutrements, Depp creates a real, terrifying monster. But the ensemble does stellar work as well. Of particular note: Rory Cochrane who really makes his small role land in some surprising ways, like in a scene where Bulger murders someone and the entire scene is played via Cochrane’s reaction; Peter Sarsgaard as a coked up loose cannon & Corey Stoll as a no-nonsense, terrifying in his own way prosecutor. And it’s fun to see a lot of these guys: Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Nicholson, a surprising Adam Scott.
But the film really belongs to Joel Edgerton. He’s an actor I’ve had a troubled relationship with, but I’m really starting to dig the guy. I thought he was career best in The Gift earlier this year, but he blows that performance out of the water here. If Depp’s Bulger is a monster, a psychopath without a soul, Edgerton’s Connolly is a man with a conscience that we watch him slowly blunt over the course of the film. Edgerton manages to make Connolly a figure that you absolutely loathe, but still feel a strange empathy for. You’re desperate to see the corrupt FBI agent brought down; after the way he handles the murder in Tulsa (and, by the way, yes, Bulger’s been kind of a figure of myth here in Tulsa ever since then, so it was great to see that particular crime given so much screen time), you loathe the man and then in a later scene where he attempts to get his wife to be friendly to Bulger, he gets even worse. But as the net closes on him, he becomes a pathetic figure; it’s almost painful to watch his desperate attempts to find a way out of the trap he knows is closing on him and the real fear and despair Edgerton finds in the character in the latter passages of the film is the strongest emotional connection I had to the film. It’s a great movie, though, this tale of corruption and cruelty. It’s a movie damning to Connolly and the FBI as a whole, perhaps even more so than it is damning to Bulger. Bulger, after all, is a demon; the FBI are people, people that should have known better. But then that’s what makes for great tragedy; people, like Connolly, knowing better and this grim, nihilistic movie is that exactly, a dark masterpiece of a crime film: well-written, brilliantly acted, incredibly effective and a damn shame all the way down the line. 4 stars.
tl;dr – consistently brilliant performances, especially from Edgerton, a return to form for Johnny Depp and an unrelentingly grim nihilism make this crime drama an instant classic. 4 stars.