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Oscar Predictions 2016: ‘Black Mass’ vs. ‘Legend’: Is There Room for Two Gangster Biopics?

Oscar Predictions 2016: 'Black Mass' vs. 'Legend': Is There Room for Two Gangster Biopics?

While the “Black Mass” Johnny Depp comeback narrative has been gaining some traction (even with digital fixes, his weirdly penetrating contact lenses are distracting), the Warner Bros. drama may repulse sensitive Oscar voters with its brutally realistic violence. It doesn’t welcome the viewer in with any empathy for its despicable characters, nor is there much in this male universe for women to hang onto. The filmmakers used every second of Julianne Nicholson’s terrific performance as the wife of FBI agent John Connolly (respected actor-director Joel Edgerton), who memorably confronts the seductive Whitey Bulger at her bedroom door. Reviews are upbeat but not Oscar territory, and box office is respectable ($60 million domestic). 

On the other hand “Legend” offers an entertaining dual performance from Tom Hardy as two murderous twin thugs in swinging 60s East London, one of whom romances and weds a neighborhood beauty (Emily Browning), who tries to adjust to his out of control brother. Writer-director Brian Helgeland delivers a nasty and fascinating portrait of these gangsters, but also shows their humanity and humor. Should it be a tad shorter? Sure. But when Hardy is on-screen I can’t take my eyes off him, and Browning, who narrates the tale, also has a bright future.

Making a move into a less crowded male-action field (“Black Mass,” “Sicario,” “The Martian”), Universal moved “Legend” from October to November 20, where there’s more oxygen against “Spotlight” and “Hunger Games,” expanding on November 25 for the holiday and wider still on December 11. Assuming all goes well (reviews are middling for the R-rated U.K. hit), Hardy and Browning could emerge in the awards derby via SAG and the Globes and build from there—just as “Black Mass’ is receding from view. 

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