For more than a decade—until his capture in 2011—Boston’s most infamous crime lord, James “Whitey” Bulger, was hunted by the FBI, surpassed only by Osama Bin Laden at the top of the Bureau’s Most Wanted List. But the ironic fact is that Bulger might never have risen to the level of power he achieved were it not for the aid and abetment of the FBI.
Warner Bros. Pictures’ new thriller “Black Mass” explores how a deal between ruthless gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) enabled Bulger to expand his criminal empire with complete impunity, as Connolly—blinded by his own ambition—shielded him from investigation, ignoring the rising body count.
Director/producer Scott Cooper relates, “John Connolly had known Whitey and his brother, Billy Bulger, since they were kids growing up in the small enclave of South Boston, called ‘Southie.’ This story interested me because of the bond between these two brothers, who could not have been more different, and John Connolly, who understood the power of the Bulger clan and had always revered them. Connolly ultimately allowed Bulger to run amok in the city because he’d wanted to be in Whitey’s good graces ever since Whitey rescued him in a playground fight when they were kids.”
While Connolly was rising through the FBI ranks by taking on the New York Mafia, Whitey Bulger was making a different kind of name for himself back home. As he grew in power, eventually taking over leadership of the local Winter Hill Gang, he was feared by some, but by many others he was something of a Robin Hood figure who was good to, and for, the neighborhood.
Johnny Depp, who portrays James “Whitey” Bulger, expands, “Southie was and is a very close knit neighborhood and they were very loyal to Jimmy,” he says, using the first name by which Bulger preferred to be called. “Many people grew up kind of idolizing him; many wanted to be him because he did things his own way and, for the most part, he won. But he was also a very charismatic man. He had this draw that made people want to get close to him. They wanted to understand him. They wanted to know him. I found James Bulger to be a fascinating character and was interested in what drove him.”
Cast in the role of John Connolly, Joel Edgerton says, “I think John saw Whitey as a kind of renegade who had this rock star glow about him in the community. To him, there was a deeper connection—he knew the rock star and that rock star had treated him well. Once. I believe he went into the FBI with good intentions and had aspirations of being a great lawman. But on his home turf there was a very blurry line between crime and the law, and if the person you admired was on the other side of the law, it could lead to other aspirations. When you look at the seemingly boundless freedom with which criminals operate…I think he started to get a little intoxicated by that.”
Producer John Lesher observes that Connolly’s fascination with Whitey might not be so different from the rest of us. “We know from movies, books and television that people are intrigued by gangsters; they live by different rules than the rest of society. In this particular case, you have a close tie between a notorious gangster, whose brother happens to be the most powerful politician in the state, and a star FBI agent. You couldn’t make this up; it’s too incredible.”
That said, Lesher acknowledges that the filmmakers did take some creative license in dramatizing the real-life events “because it would be impossible to adequately portray everything that transpired in a single movie. We composited a few characters and compressed the timeline of some things, but the overall story is based on real events, which makes it extremely compelling.”
The ensemble cast also includes Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) as Whitey’s brother, powerful State Senator Billy Bulger; Rory Cochrane (“Argo”) as Stephen Flemmi, Whitey’s closest partner in crime; Jesse Plemons (TV’s “Fargo”) as Whitey’s main henchman, Kevin Weeks; and Kevin Bacon (“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” TV’s “The Following”) as FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles McGuire.
Opening across the Philippines on October 21, “Black Mass” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.