The life story of Boston crime kingspin Whitey Bulger is ripe for the plucking, as far as a Hollywood adaptation goes. This summer, Oscar-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Bugsy) will direct Johnny Depp – who’s going to play the cunning mobster and secret FBI informant in one such Bulger biopic, titled Black Mass.
Bulger is the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s colorful criminal, Frank Costello, in The Departed. Similarly, John Connolly – the gangster’s longtime friend and the federal agent who conspired with Bulger to take the rival Italian mob (in Boston, that is) down – is the basis for Matt Damon’s Departed character, Colin Sullivan. Hence, in the Black Mass script – written by relative newcomer Mark Mallouk - Connolly plays second-fiddle to Bulger.
Deadline is reporting that Joel Edgerton has closed a deal to co-star in Black Mass as Connolly, appearing opposite Depp as the wily Bulger. Edgerton has come a long ways from his days as a secondary player back in the mid-1990s – and his cameo role as young Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels – by knocking out a string of strong performances, in such movies as Animal Kingdom, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty and as blue-blooded Tom Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (read our review).
That’s to say, he’s earned the right to share co-headlining duties with someone of Depp’s (acting) stature. Moreover, Black Mass is one of two upcoming project that will feature Edgerton in the co-headlining capacity, as he is currently playing the male lead opposite Natalie Portman in the troubled western Jane Got a Gun.
Mallouk’s Black Mass screenplay is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” as written by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr (a Pulitzer finalist) and Gerald O’Neill (a Pulitzer winner) and published back in 2001. However, Bulger’s capture in 2011 led to a complete overhaul of the original script draft, in order to produce a proper third act (similar to what happened with Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty script, after Osama bin Laden was killed).
If there’s a downside to this story, it’s that Levinson’s directing output in recent years hasn’t been much to write home about (see: The Bay, What Just Happened, Man of the Year, etc.). Hopefully, the combination of fascinating subject matter – and leading men of Depp and Edgerton’s quality – will elevate this real-gangster drama into something memorable (at the least, until Ben Affleck and Matt Damon manage to get their own Bulger biopic off the ground).
Black Mass begins filming this summer, for a 2014 theatrical release.