NEW YORK, June 27 (UPI) -- Attorney Hank Brennan, who defended James "Whitey" Bulger at his racketeering trial last year, is denouncing as fiction Black Mass, an upcoming big-screen drama starring Johnny Depp as the notorious gangster.
Bulger, 84, ran a South Boston crime syndicate for decades, allegedly paying off corrupt authorities to look the other way while he conducted his illicit business. He went on the lam in 1994 and kept a low profile until his arrest in California in 2011. He was tried in 2013 and convicted of money laundering, extortion, weapons offenses and racketeering -- a charge that encompassed his involvement in 11 murders. Exonerated in eight additional homicides, Bulger was sentenced to two life sentences and five years behind bars. Brennan is now working on his appeal.
"If I ever had a comment about the Johnny Depp movie, I would denounce it as fiction," Brennan told UPI in a recent phone interview when asked if he or Bulger are participating in the making of Black Mass.
"I think the Johnny Depp movie does a disservice, not only to the public, but it does a disservice to the victims' families," he argued.
"I think it is so unfortunate that Hollywood has decided to produce a movie with Johnny Depp based on the book Black Mass. Now, there is a story and a movie to be told, and there is plenty of information that the public needs to know, but when you filter it through a Hollywood production that is based on a book called Black Mass, what you're doing is distorting the truth because Black Mass was written in the year 2000 and Black Mass was written by authors who previously wrote a book called The Underboss where they glorified [FBI] agents like John Connolly and John Morris, who we now know were corrupt and involved in cases of murder.
And, so, the source of those books was the federal government and the federal government is very keen in disseminating propaganda. They are very good at this part of their business and these local reporters would eat it up because it gave them leverage or a benefit or their own legacy in the story, but most of it was absolute fiction. So, when I read those books, I see how much of it is just inaccurate and lies. And what has happened since 2000 is we have learned so much more. ... A film like Black Mass ignores what we learned in the congressional hearings about the systemic [government] corruption. It ignores the 19 trials where we see these families fighting to show that the government was responsible for the loss of their loved ones."
Brennan said he doesn't have a problem with a dramatic movie about Bulger, as long as whoever makes it checks their facts and tells the story responsibly.
"Hopefully, somebody else like [Boston actor-writer-producer] Matt Damon or somebody has a genuine film," he said, adding it doesn't have to be a glowing portrayal of Bulger. "It just has to be truthful."
The attorney went on to say he is glad Joe Berlinger's even-handed documentary, Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, will be seen by audiences before Black Mass hits theaters next year.
Berlinger's film chronicles the 2013 trial, which was not televised, and features on-camera interviews with law-enforcement officials, Boston journalists, Bulger's defense team, victims and associates, and the families of the people Bulger is accused of killing. Bulger can also be heard speaking to his lawyers in taped phone conversations from prison.
The documentary dedicates time to both the government's claim that Bulger worked for years as a criminal informant and Bulger's vehement denial of that assertion as he maintains he was promised immunity by corrupt local, state and federal authorities whom he said he paid well to ignore his crimes.
So, what made Bulger agree to cooperate with Berlinger when he previously rejected thousands of offers to tell his story?
"The fact that we had an objective source willing to come in and not necessarily take his side, but just report it effectively, was an opportunity. I did quite a bit of research on Joe because we didn't immediately accept Joe's offer, but I looked at his movies like Brother's Keeper and, most importantly for me, Crude, and I realized Joe is legitimate. He wasn't someone who fashioned a story based on his personal opinion. He was an objective commentator and based on his past work and his willingness to stand up to the government, I felt we could trust him. So, when I talked to Mr. Bulger, I gave my endorsement and that's where it took off."
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger is now playing in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It can also be seen through various video-on-demand platforms.