Whitey Bulger Subject of Two Very Different Films

James J. “Whitey” Bulger is no stranger to Hollywood. Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy-Award winning film The Departed was, in part, based on Bulger’s notorious life as a mob boss in South Boston for decades. Now, a year after his trial for 33 counts of murder and racketeering, the 84-year-old Bulger is the subject of two new films, one a documentary, the other a feature starring Johnny Depp as Bulger.

In the documentary, Whitey: United Stated of America v. James J. Bulger, documentarian Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper) tries to paint a portrait of the infamous Bulger, but not as a man found guilty of 11 counts of murder, but as a victim; a patsy; even a hero.

Berlinger presents two different takes in his doc, one with Bulger acting as high-level FBI informant who saw corruption on the side of good, especially from his handler, John Connolly, who was convicted of murder himself, only to have the verdict vacated by Boston courts. Bulger claims to have fled from authorities in 1994 to save his own life and stayed hidden until his arrest in Santa Monica, California, in 2011. The other shows the case against Whitey Bulger, who ran a bloody, violent racketeering scheme on Boston’s south side with partner Steve Flemmi, and right hand henchman, Kevin Weeks. Bulger maintains his innocence, even after being found guilty and ordered to serve two life sentences, plus five years behind bars.

Bulger and his attorney, Hank Brennan, endorse Joe Berlinger’s documentary as they believe it is based on fact, and according to Variety, the doc was made without face-to-face access with Bulger, or cameras in the court room. Brennan spoke about the documentary in a a interview with UPI.

“The fact that we had an objective source willing to come in and not necessarily take his side, but just report it effectively, was an opportunity. I did quite a bit of research on Joe because we didn’t immediately accept Joe’s offer, but I looked at his movies like ‘Brother’s Keeper’ and, most importantly for me, ‘Crude,’ and I realized Joe is legitimate. He wasn’t someone who fashioned a story based on his personal opinion. He was an objective commentator and based on his past work and his willingness to stand up to the government, I felt we could trust him. So, when I talked to Mr. Bulger, I gave my endorsement and that’s where it took off.”

The other film, based off the book, Black Mass, features Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. According to Bulger and his attorney, the book and the film are both fiction. Brennan tells UPI that the book was written as propaganda with help from the FBI and the film is a disservice to the victims.

“I think it is so unfortunate that Hollywood has decided to produce a movie with Johnny Depp based on the book ‘Black Mass.’ Now, there is a story and a movie to be told, and there is plenty of information that the public needs to know, but when you filter it through a Hollywood production that is based on a book called ‘Black Mass,’ what you’re doing is distorting the truth because ‘Black Mass’ was written in the year 2000 and ‘Black Mass’ was written by authors who previously wrote a book called ‘The Underboss’ where they glorified [FBI] agents like John Connolly and John Morris, who we now know were corrupt and involved in cases of murder.

“And, so, the source of those books was the federal government and the federal government is very keen in disseminating propaganda. They are very good at this part of their business and these local reporters would eat it up because it gave them leverage or a benefit or their own legacy in the story, but most of it was absolute fiction. So, when I read those books, I see how much of it is just inaccurate and lies. And what has happened since 2000 is we have learned so much more…. A film like ‘Black Mass’ ignores what we learned in the congressional hearings about the systemic [government] corruption. It ignores the 19 trials where we see these families fighting to show that the government was responsible for the loss of their loved ones.”

Black Mass is currently filming in south Boston, and the production has drawn criticism from “Southies” upset that the film will glorify Bulger even more. The film also stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Dakota Johnson and is directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart) and will be released next year.