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Johnny Depp’s ‘Black Mass’ Provokes Strong Response at CinemaCon

Exhibitors got their first look at Johnny Depp’s gangster drama “Black Mass” at the Warner Bros. panel at CinemaCon on Tuesday, drawing notable reactions that could build up momentum ahead of the film’s Sept. 18 release.

Depp was a no-show, but director Scott Cooper took time to praise his portrayal of Boston’s Whitey Bulger. “It’s a performance for the ages,” he asserted.

Cooper said the movie takes a look at abuse of power and the bonds of brotherhood. In the clip shown, Depp looked somewhat unrecognizable, with piercing blue eyes, combed-back blonde hair and a fearsome intensity — mostly in a dinner scene with David Harbour, who plays FBI supervisor John Morris.

The footage showed a few glimpses of Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays Billy Bulger, Whitey Bulger’s law-abiding brother and a Massachusetts state senator. Joel Edgerton is playing disgraced FBI agent John Connolly, who aided Bulger and was sentenced to 40 years in prison despite maintaining his innocence.

Jesse Plemons (“Breaking Bad”) will portray Bulger’s longtime partner-in-crime, Kevin Weeks, and Sienna Miller will play his lover, Catherine Greig. Dakota Johnson has been cast as Bulger’s former girlfriend and mother of his only child. Other cast members are Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott,  Jeremy Strong, Brad Carter, W. Earl Brown and Corey Stoll.

Warner Bros. came on board last year to co-finance with Cross Creek and release the film. The project is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” written by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Mark Mallouk penned the script.

Bulger, the head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, was captured in Santa Monica in 2011 after being on the lam for 16 years. Bulger fled authorities in Boston just before he was indicted in 1995 for federal racketeering. He was found guilty last year on 31 counts, covering 11 murders, and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years for his crimes.

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