“His hair is Harlow gold, his brows odd surprise, his face looks icy cold, he’s got Whitey Bulger’s eyes.” — Venice Film Festival tweet from Playlist critic Jessica Kiang.
Following the 7.30 appearance of the most recent Black Mass trailer I wrote that “the assumption, of course, is that Johnny ‘Alaskan husky eyes’ Depp will slam it out of park as Whitey Bulger.” And the early Venice Film Festival reviews suggest that Depp’s performance as the notorious, now-incarcerated Boston crime lord is quite the thing. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy writes that “long-time Depp fans who might have lately given up hope of his doing something interesting anytime soon will especially appreciate his dive into the deep end here.” But in the view of Indiewire‘s Jessica Kiang, the performance is hindered by excessive makeup.
“This is certainly the most interesting thing [Depp has] done in ages, and he never feels less than committed — and no doubt there will be those who’ll champion it as such,” she writes. “But…Depp is encased in a helmet of make-up and prosthetics [that] make him look by turns ghostly, corpse-like, lizardy and sometimes like a literal incarnation of the devil. It makes him fascinating to look at, but maybe for the wrong reasons — ones that have nothing to do with the quality of his performance or the menace and charisma he exudes, and more to do with trying to locate the single element that almost but doesn’t quite gel.
“Is it the too-light contacts with their unchanging beady pupils? Is it his odd, never totally convincing hairline? Is it the fact that his forehead seems peculiarly immobile? This feels like a rare case where a live action performance falls into what animators call the ‘uncanny valley‘ — the narrow but unbridgeable gap that exists between something realistic and something real.”
This extra-terrestrial with the husky eyes appearance has been bothering me all along, I must say. The hair looks too damn tidy. Did Whitey Bulger really use extra-hold hair spray? In all the trailers Depp looks at the very least like he’s just spent a good four or five hours in the makeup chair. And this interferes, of course, with what any performance tries to do, which is to make you forget that you’re watching one.
I’d like to get on the Black Mass bandwagon and forgive Deep for all those godawful Pirates of the Caribbean flicks (okay, the first was less agonizing that the ones that followed) and all those Tim Burton collaborations that didn’t quite ring anyone’s bell, and I’d like to feel those “Depp-arted” vibes…but we’ll see. Black Mass screens in Telluride for the first time tomorrow night at 9:45 pm.