There have been two film projects about mobster-turned-informant Whitey Bulger in development in recent years, and neither has had an easy journey. The version in the Ben Affleck / Matt Damon camp seems to have permanently stalled, but the signs are improving for its rival Black Mass. Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) is now negotiating to rewrite and direct the film, and there is speculation that Johnny Depp may once again be circling the lead role.
Black Mass is adapted from Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill’s book, subtitled The True Story Of An Unholy Alliance Between The FBI and The Irish Mob. Mark Mallouk originally wrote the screenplay, tracking Bulger’s life masterminding a violent gang in Boston while also turning federal snitch to take down rivals. Bulger went on the run in 1994 when the FBI began making arrests and agents double-crossed and prosecuted him. After years on the Most Wanted list he was finally captured in 2011 in California, and now resides in a Massachusetts state prison, serving a sentence for second-degree murder.
Barry Levinson - who previously worked with Depp as a producer on the superficially similar Donnie Brasco back in 1997 - was all set to roll cameras on the film last May, until Depp dropped out over salary disagreements. Levinson, clearly, has also since departed, but with Cooper now almost in place, Depp is being courted once again. Whether financiers Cross Creek and Exclusive Media decide to grit their teeth and pay his reported $23m asking price this time remains to be seen.
Last year Joel Edgerton was set to play Bulger's childhood friend and FBI contact John Connolly (not the crime writer), but there's no mention this morning of whether he's still attached. Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson and John Lesher remain the producers, and may shortly be joined by Christi Dembrowski of Depp's Infinitum Nihil production banner, should Depp come back aboard.