Boston’s most famous criminal gets his own biopic this weekend, as Black Mass starring Johnny Depp opens nationwide. I have no idea what the rest of the country expects from this newest mobster flick. I don’t even really know what the rest of the country thinks about a man that was once only behind Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
What I do know is that Whitey Bulger’s hometown won’t be celebrating its most famous fugitive, not this weekend and not ever, because Whitey Bulger is not some criminal anti-hero that should be revered. He should never end up as a poster on dorm room walls like a modern day Tony Montana, or be viewed as a sympathetic mob boss who we all secretly root for like Tony Soprano. No, Whitey Bulger is a murderer and sociopath that will forever be a stain and a disgrace to the city of Boston.
Bulger spent 16 years on the lam, from the time he fled in 1995 until his capture in 2011, and I was 11 when he disappeared. I don’t have any memories of him before then, as I doubt most my age do, but once he fled, and we learned about his “unholy alliance” with the FBI where he worked as a protected informant, everyone here knew about him and what he had done. If a rumor passed about where he was, you heard it. Was he in Ireland? Was he back in Boston? We were convinced at one point he was in Italy. People were positive, one way or the other, about what his brother, a very public figure as the president of UMass, knew. This wasn’t some fun mystery where people sat around having a laugh over a beer; this was important. We had let Whitey Bulger get away with actual murder and we couldn’t find him.
And make no mistake – we aren’t talking about some criminal mobster following a mythical code like Omar from The Wire. Innocent people were killed. Their families still live here. Boston, a loyal and proud city in all of the absolute best and absolute worst ways, screwed up, and we owed it to them to find him.
It isn’t groundbreaking to say that as a society we have a tendency to glorify criminals, especially mobsters, even real ones. I have very vivid memories of New York mobster Jon Gotti. I remember the headlines and the news stories about the “Teflon Don” and the applause he’d get when he beat the state in court. People there loved him, but that has never been true of Whitey Bulger. In all my years, I never heard one positive thing said about him. My hope is that time does not soften his image, and that he does not become some beloved figure from the underworld. That would not only be a dishonor to his victims and their families and friends, but another reminder of how badly we screwed up in Boston.
Our supposed good guys let the bad guy do what he wanted, and then told him to run. For my entire formative years, Whitey Bulger was the Boogeyman of Boston. When he was finally captured, I let out a “yeah!” as though I had somehow been involved in his apprehending. I had nothing to do with it, but at least he would finally be brought to justice and we could stop being embarrassed by his freedom.
So, I don’t know what the rest of the country thinks about Whitey Bulger, or what they expect from this movie, but I hope this film does justice to this story, even though Boston, a city I love very much, will again have to face what we did.
We deserve it. We know it.
After this movie, for good, and especially for bad, I hope you all know it too.
What do you expect from this movie? Talk about it in the comments right here.
Black Mass Image: Warner Brothers
Whitey Bulger Image: Boston Herald