In Time For Berlin: Johnny Depp Plays Boston Mob’s Whitey Bulger In ‘Black Mass’

EXCLUSIVE: Just as Whitey Bulger rose to the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List when he disappeared for a decade before he could be put behind bars, the fast mobilizing movie about the Boston crime kingpin just rose to the top of the most wanted list in the upcoming European Film Market in Berlin. That’s because Johnny Deep has become attached to star in the Cross Creek crime thriller Black Mass, with Barry Levinson directing him. The picture is a co-production between Cross Creek and Nigel Sinclair and Guy East’s Exclusive Media, with the two entities co-financing. Universal Pictures is aboard to release the film in the U.S. through Cross Creek’s distribution deal with the studio, and production is to begin in May.

The film will be produced by Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson, John Lesher, and Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s partner in Infinitum Nihil. Exclusive Media’s Tobin Armbrust, President Worldwide Production and Acquisitions and Cross Creek Pictures Sr. VP of Production Adam Kassan, will oversee production. Alex Walton, Exclusive Media’s President of International Sales and Distribution, will introduce Black Mass to overseas buyers at the upcoming European Film Market in Berlin.

The title of the film comes from the 2001 Dick Lehr/Gerald O’Neill New York Times bestseller Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob. The script was written by Mark Mallouk, and the long-gestating movie got the third act it needed when Bulger was captured in California in summer 2011, after he spent a decade on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Bulger was a notoriously ruthless Boston mob kingpin who was the basis for characters like the one that Jack Nicholson played in the Martin Scorsese-directed The Departed and Pete Postlethwaite played in the Ben Affleck-directed The Town (Affleck has his own Whitey Bulger project scripted by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter with Matt Damon expected to play the mobster, but he’ll next direct Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night so there’s no way that film will beat this one into production). Even as he was masterminding a violent gang–the federal case against him alleges 19 murders–Bulger was an FBI informant, a role he took on discreetly to take down a rival gang, but the tables were turned on him. After the Feds closed in on their targets, they double crossed Bulger and ultimately prosecuted him, along with his partner in crime and the original FBI agent working with him.

“I could not be more thrilled to have the biggest star in the world and Academy Award winning director Barry Levinson to finally bring this incredible story to the big screen,” said Cross Creek’s Oliver. “We have been working on this project since we originally optioned the book in 2005. Black Mass expertly details the twists and turns of this highly complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston’s underbelly and its corrupt political machine, as well as exposing the worst scandal in FBI history. It’s also an examination of loyalty to family, Irish heritage, and South Boston.”

Said Exclusive Media’s Sinclair and East: “We are thrilled by the opportunity to bring Mark Mallouk’s terrific screenplay to the screen with perhaps this generation’s biggest and best actor and a director who’s work makes him one of America’s iconic filmmakers. Occasionally a film project comes along that is truly exceptional – from the terrific subject matter to the chance to collaborate again with our long time friends and partners at Cross Creek, and to have the opportunity work with the unique and inimitable Johnny Depp. We are truly delighted to be involved in Black Mass.”

Depp and Levinson previously worked together when the latter produced the Mike Newell-directed Donnie Brasco, considered a mob classic. Levinson has separately been attached to a film about John Gotti Jr and his notorious crime family, but that picture has been on shaky financial footing for a long time and who knows if or when it will happen.

Cross Creek and Exclusive Media jointly co-produced George Clooney’s The Ides Of March with Smokehouse Pictures, the Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman In Black, and the upcoming Ron Howard-directed Rush with Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, the latter of which is being produced with Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment, Working Title, and Revolution Films. Universal will release that Formula One film in the U.S. this year. The companies are co-producing and co-financing A Walk Among The Tombstones, with Liam Neeson starring.

The deal was negotiated by UTA’s Tracey Jacobs, Jake Bloom and Micheal Schenkman for Depp and UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer and Barry Hirsch for Levinson as well as Eric Greenfeld on behalf of Cross Creek and Exclusive Media.

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