Who is Whitey Bulger? If you asked that question during the 1980s, especially around the city of Boston, he was the undisputed mob leader of Beantown. If you asked that question in the 1990s and 2000s, he was the gangster on the run—living a carefree life as a fugitive in Santa Monica, California for 16 years—second to only Osama Bin Laden on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for most of that time. If you asked that question in 2013, he was the convicted felon sentenced to two life terms in prison where he still resides today. Ask that question on September 18, and the answer is a physically transformed and unrecognizable Johnny Depp in the new film Black Mass.
With some critics already talking Oscar buzz for Depp, the story of the notorious and vicious James “Whitey” Bulger is an amazing tale of an unholy alliance between the murderous gangster and a Boston-based FBI agent John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton) who protected him as he helped them bring down his criminal adversaries. Then there’s the protection Bulger also received from his own brother, Billy Bulger (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a leader of the Democratic Party, who served as President of the Massachusetts State Senate.
If it weren’t true, the rise and fall of Whitey Bulger would not be believed. Director Scott Cooper was himself transfixed by the story, noting his reaction to Bulger's arrest in Southern California after escaping justice for more than a decade: "I was gobsmacked. And to think he had been living just miles from my house."
As for his own transformation into the violent Whitey Bulger, Depp told the press at the Venice Film Festival: "I think you just have to approach [Bulger] just as a human being in a sense that nobody wakes up in the morning and shaves or brushes their teeth and looks in the mirror and thinks 'I am evil' or 'I'm going to do something evil today.’ I think within the context of his business...not only was the violence just a part of the job, let's say, but it was also kind of a language that the people that he associated with and the people that he opposed...understood."
I think within the context of his business...not only was the violence just a part of the job, let's say, but it was also kind of a language that the people that he associated with and the people that he opposed...understood. - Johnny Depp on Whitey Bulger
Ultimately convicted of 11 of 19 murder charges, among a litany of other crimes including racketeering, conspiracy and extortion, the 86-year-old Bulger now spends his days in Florida, although unlike other elderly Florida residents his address is the United States Penitentiary, Coleman II.
That government agents could protect such a man and even unwittingly assist him in his rise to power is at the very center of the riveting Black Mass, which is already being called “one of the year’s best” by Deadline Hollywood. Led by Cooper's direction, the impressive cast also includes Kevin Bacon, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, W. Early Brown, David Harbour, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott and Juno Temple.
Black Mass enters theaters this Friday, September 18.