Many critics have hailed Johnny Depp's new true crime thriller, Black Mass. Maxim's Beejoli Shah called Depp's portrayal of Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger a "pitch perfect maniacal portrayal," and Slate's review said Depp's work was "as strong, and as energized, as anything he's done on screen for years."
If this was a trailer for a dumb romantic comedy, here is where we'd insert a record-scratch sound effect, because in an interview with the Daily Beast, longtime Bulger crony Kevin Weeks poured cold water on the hit film as well as Depp's growling, flat-eyed portrayal of his former boss.
Weeks, who was by Bulger's side for 16 years, told Daily Beast's Marlow Stern that while Bulger and his crew "really did kill all those people," Black Mass "is a fantasy."
A former bouncer who became Bulger's "driver and personal muscle," according to the Stern, Weeks spent 5 years incarcerated for crimes related to his time in Bulger's Winter Hill Gang. He's written several books since his 2004 release from prison, including an account of the FBI hunt for Bulger published in July, 2015. His interview with the site made it clear he was personally insulted by the film as well.
"My character looks like a knuckle-dragging moron,” Weeks told Stern in reference to his portrayal by Jesse Plemons. "I look like I have Down syndrome."
Regarding the movie in general, Weeks said it was "very disappointing." The only way Depp really resembled Bulger, he continued, "was his hairline." In criticizing Depp's performance, Weeks also revealed interesting tidbits about the Whitey he knew. "And the mannerisms—the way that Whitey talked to us—he never swore at us. In all the years I was with that man, he never swore at me once. We never yelled at each other."
Weeks also made sure to point out to Stern that another Bulger associate, John Martorano—played by W. Earl Brown—was nothing like the character in the film. If anything, Martorano was more dangerous than Bulger.
"There’s a scene early on in the film where Johnny Martorano’s character is at the bar Triple O’s, and is reaching into a peanut bowl, licking his fingers, and sticking them back into the bowl, and Whitey starts mocking him for it," Weeks says. "Whitey ever started talking to Johnny like that—berating him—the movie would be over because Johnny would’ve shot him right then. As bad as Whitey was, Johnny was just as capable—if not more."
Weeks also said the film even whitewashed gang member Steve Flemmi, played by Rory Cochrane. "Stevie was a psychopath," Weeks said, "Stevie would’ve killed him. And Stevie is portrayed as a very sympathetic character."
Weeks further picks apart the film in some detail, even saying that one scene in particular made him feel he'd "been libeled," as it was written to show he was more involved in one of the Winter Hill Gang murders than he was. As for Black Mass's depiction of the FBI, Weeks has no use for it. Corrupt agent John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton in the movie, was "a criminal, too. He was our informant, and that’s how it was portrayed to all of us—that we were paying for his information."
Kevin Weeks's full interview is a fascinating look at just how wide the gulf between true stories and their on-screen depictions can be. And while Weeks seems to have lived a law-abiding life since he got out prison, we'd be a little nervous—if we were Johnny Depp or director Scott Cooper—that our flick made an ex-mob enforcer so pissed off.
Photos by Boston Globe