A Big Birthday Weekend for Whitey Bulger

Black Mass screens in Venice and Telluride.

In jail, James “Whitey” Bulger today turns 86. But it is on the big screen where the life memories are about to get most prominently splashed: Venice tomorrow; Telluride over the weekend; and Toronto shortly thereafter.

Along with Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, Johnny Depp essaying Bulger is poised to give the annual Labor Day weekend Colorado film festival a fearsome one-two biopic punch. In a recent interview with New York Times reporters Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply, Black Mass director Scott Cooper explained that the disappointing performance of his 2014 film Out of the Furnace reinforced for him how crucial it is to find the humanity. Even when dealing with monsters like Bulger:

The most significant humanizing detail, Mr. Cooper came to believe, was Mr. Bulger’s loss of a six-year-old young son to Reye’s syndrome in 1973. “Having seen my parents lose a child at a young age, I know how terrible that can be,” Mr. Cooper said. (Mr. Cooper’s older sister died from a rare form of meningitis when she was 7.) Reliving trauma of that sort through Mr. Bulger’s eyes, Mr. Depp found the heart of a reflexive killer. “He underwent a transformation I hadn’t seen,” Mr. Cooper said.

Deadline awards columnist Pete Hammond, one of the lucky journalists on his way to Telluride, writes that while Depp is confirmed for the Venice unveiling, there are only whispers that the actor will show up subsequently in Colorado. We’re betting the actor will.

Update (September 5):
The Black Mass view is a little different from Boston and the relatives of Bulger’s victims. Per a front-page story today by Joe Dwinell, one widow wonders perhaps a little prematurely if she will get a comped movie ticket.


@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.