Whitey Bulger: Barry Levinson off ‘Black Mass’; film aims for spring


With “Whitey” Bulger given two life sentences on Thursday, a coda has been written to one of the most uncanny real-life mob stories in American history.

On the big screen, the tale may just be beginning.

“Black Mass,” the fact-based Bulger project that was at one time to star Johnny Depp, is very much alive and could begin production as soon as early 2014, filmmakers say.

“Our intention is to shoot in Boston this spring,” producer John Lesher told The Times.


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Based on a script by Mark Mallouk about James “Whitey” Bulger’s striking 16-year run as both a ruthless mobster and FBI informant, the film was originally set up with Depp portraying the gangster and was scheduled to shoot as early as last spring. But Depp left last May amid reports of salary disagreements. Veteran helmer Barry Levinson, who had been aboard for months as director, was still assumed to be attached to the project. But Lesher said Thursday that Levinson is no longer directing, with the project now seeking a new director and star.

The film is adapted from Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill’s book of the same name and examines Bulger’s reign of terror as well as the complex FBI scheme that eventually brought him down. Exclusive Media and Cross Creek Pictures are financing the movie -- the companies recently teamed on another compelling real life story, the Formula One tale “Rush.”

Other Bulger projects remain in development, including a Ben Affleck-directed tale at Warner Bros. that would star pal and “Good Will Hunting” collaborator Matt Damon as Bulger. Fox has a TV series in development titled “Street Solider,” about one of the members of Bulger’s gang who successfully got out.

After a long run as crime kingpin that saw him allegedly responsible for nearly 20 murders and various instances of torture, Bulger fled shortly before a racketeering indictment and went into hiding for 16 years. He was discovered in Santa Monica in 2011.

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On Thursday, Judge Denise J. Casper sentenced Bulger to life in prison plus five years, along with another life sentence, and ordered him to pay $19.5 million in restitution. Bulger plans to appeal.

The trial gives “Black Mass” a certain timeliness. But filmmakers say that’s not a major factor in the film’s momentum.

“We are going to try to tell a compelling story in an honest way,” Lesher said. “The urgency is that we love it. It’s just taken a little while to get the project in the right place.”

When Casper addressed Bulger in the sentencing hearing, she said that that “the scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable.”

She added: “At times during the trial I wished that we were watching a movie, that what we were hearing was not real, but as the families of the victims here know too well, it was not a movie.” If Hollywood has its way, we may get that too.


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