Johnny Depp signs on to play Boston gangster Whitey Bulger

Rebecca Flint Marx
Movie Talk

Sixteen years after they collaborated on “Donnie Brasco,” Barry Levinson and Johnny Depp are getting married to the mob once again. This time, the occasion is “Black Mass,” the true-life story of Whitey Bulger, the Boston mob kingpin who spent more than a decade on the FBI’s Most Wanted List before he was apprehended in June 2011.

As Deadline reports, Depp recently signed on to star as Bulger, whom Federal prosecutors have indicted for 19 murders.

Penned by first-time screenwriter Mark Mallouk and directed by Levinson, “Black Mass” takes it title from Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill’s 2001 bestseller “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.” Among other things, the book recounted Bulger’s 1975 recruitment as an informant for the FBI, who used him in their effort to take down the Italian mafia. In exchange for information, Bulger received the FBI’s protection, and exploited it to become Boston’s most powerful gangster. In 1994, Bulger was tipped off by his former FBI handler about a pending indictment, and went into hiding. He remained at large for 16 years until he was arrested in California in 2011. When the media eventually exposed Bulger’s ties to the FBI, it resulted in one of the worst scandals in the agency’s history.

In a statement, Cross Creek president Brian Oliver 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.”

The film, which will start shooting in May, isn’t the only Bulger biopic in the works: another version of mobster’s tale will reportedly be told by Ben Affleck, who is expected to direct Matt Damon as Bulger from a script by “Boardwalk Empire” creator Terrence Winter. As with onscreen depictions of Alfred Hitchcock and Hercules, it seems that Holly wood just can’t get enough.