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The news that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are developing a movie about the notorious Boston-based gangster Whitey Bulger was met with mixed emotions in Beantown.
As The Hollywood Reporter reported earlier this week, Affleck would direct the project, with Damon portraying the man through several decades, including his rise and local Robin Hood-style infamy, his alleged 19 murders and racketeering, his acting as an FBI informant, and his years on the run.
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Bulger was caught earlier this year in California at the age of 81 after 16 years on the run. He had been wanted for his alleged role numerous crimes, including 19 murders.
And although Affleck and Damon grew up in the Boston area, their new project is being met with some trepidation from other residents there, according to the Boston Globe.
“If anyone makes this movie, I’m pleased it’s these two. They’re brilliant,” Tommy Donahue, whose father was allegedly killed by Bulger and his henchmen, “But I definitely have mixed emotions about this. Hopefully they can depict Whitey Bulger for what he is. They’ll need to do their homework, though.”
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Added attorney Anthony Cardinale, who represented former New England mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme in a case that helped expose Bulger’s corrupt ties with the FBI: “If it’s done honestly, [Damon] will look like an idiot, a treacherous piece of junk. It’ll be a bad career move for him. [If not done accurately], it’s a worse career move.”
Defense attorney Joseph Oteri, a longtime family friend of Bulger, believes that Affleck and Damon will be able to “capture the mentality” of the area accurately, but Thomas Foley, the former Massachusetts State Police colonel who played a key role in building the case against Bulger, is worried that the project might not be able to accurately portray the facts in the case — including that Bulger became an FBI informant in the 1970s — without “making [Bulger] any more of a celebrity than he is now.”
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“What angle will they take?” said Foley, who is writing a book about the case. “I don’t know, but this happened over many years. It’s hard to get your arms around all that in a two-hour movie.’’
Dick Lehr, who wrote Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob with Gerard O’Neill, believes the project — and any other movie about Bulger that focuses on FBI corruption — is “a good thing, a public service.’’
But former Bulger henchman Kevin Weeks, who wrote Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob with Phyllis Karas, doesn’t think Damon “can pull it off. … If he wants to portray a fictional [Whitey] Bulger, maybe. But I think an actor like Ed Harris could pull it off better.”
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And Robert Fitzpatrick, a former FBI Boston officer supervisor whose book comes out in January, is concerned about how the FBI will be portrayed in the movie, adding that “the Bulger affair was as complicated an affair as I’ve ever seen in the bureau.”
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