Back in the 1930s and ’40s, the story of two childhood best friends or brothers who grew up to live on different sides of the law (a cop and a gangster, a priest and a thug, an honest politician and a corrupt operator)was a crime drama staple. It wasn’t just melodrama, though, as illustrated by the story of the Bulger brothers: William Bulger became a Massachusetts state senator, while his brother James, better known as “Whitey,” became one of the most notorious crime bosses in mid-century American lore. The story got even more complicated when Whitey quietly turned informant for the FBI, then went on the run when the Feds pursued him for criminal charges anyway. Bulger was finally found and captured in California in 2011.
Sounds like catnip for moviemakers, right? Well, it has been–characters in “The Departed” and “The Town” have been loosely based on Bulger, and there have been numerous attempts over the years to get a film about his life started; Hollywood’s favorite Bostonians Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are said to be working on a project where Damon would star and Affleck direct.
But gosh darn it, we’ve just heard this weekend that Johnny Depp has beaten them to it. Cross Creek Pictures and Universal Pictures have announced that Depp will star as Bulger in an adaptation of “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” written by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill and published in 2001 by Harper Collins. Mark Mallouk wrote the script (updating the book to include the 2011 events, of course) and Barry Levinson will direct. Eight million people and corporations are producing.
Brian Oliver, one of those producers said:
“I could not be more thrilled to have the biggest star in the world and Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson to finally bring this incredible story to the big screen. We have been working on this project since we originally optioned the book in 2005. ‘Black Mass’ expertly details the twists and turns of this highly complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston’s underbelly and its corrupt political machine, as well as exposing the worst scandal in FBI history. It’s also an examination of loyalty to family, Irish heritage, and South Boston.”
Nigel Sinclair and Guy East, also of the merry band of producers said:
“We are thrilled by the opportunity to bring Mark Mallouk’s terrific screenplay to the screen with perhaps this generation’s biggest and best actor and a director who’s work makes him one of America’s iconic filmmakers. Occasionally a film project comes along that is truly exceptional – from the terrific subject matter to the chance to collaborate again with our long time friends and partners at Cross Creek, and to have the opportunity work with the unique and inimitable Johnny Depp. We are truly delighted to be involved in ‘Black Mass.”