While Martin Scorsese is feted by Hollywood for his Oscar-winning film “The Departed,” relatives of people killed or tortured by the real-life Boston Irish mobster on which the movie is based are not applauding.
Some say they feel exploited by the film, which won best picture and best director in last month’s Oscars, or that it stirred up painful memories or glossed over crucial facts.
Others simply refuse to see Hollywood’s version of the life of fugitive gangster James “Whitey” Bulger
“The movie gives this hero worship to this creature,” said Christopher McIntyre, 47, whose brother was murdered by Bulger’s gang in 1984. He said he has not seen the film because it would be “very painful.”
“For eight hours, they strapped him in a chair and cut pieces off him. He begged for a bullet in the brain,” McIntyre said, adding that he still feels threatened by remnants of Bulger’s gang and plans to leave Massachusetts.
Indicted for 19 murders, Whitey Bulger has eluded police since December 23, 1994, when the convicted bank robber and government informer with ties to corrupt federal agents vanished and sparked a manhunt with unconfirmed sightings spanning nearly every continent.
He is listed alongside Osama bin Laden as one of America’s most-wanted fugitives.
McIntyre’s family filed a federal lawsuit in 2001 that alleges FBI agents at the top levels of the Boston office knew of Bulger’s crimes but protected him from prosecution because they were informants against the local Italian Mafia.
The FBI has declined to comment on the case, saying its investigation into Bulger is ongoing.
Tim Connors, 32, whose father was gunned down by Bulger’s gang in 1975, said he did not like the way Hollywood portrayed the characters based on Bulger and his notorious Winter Hill gang, which generated more than 60 convictions in about 30 cases.
“It glorified things way too much,” he said. “Everybody is just trying to cash in on that story.”
Howie Carr, author of the “The Brothers Bulger,” said that although the movie was set in the insular Irish-American South Boston enclave where Bulger lived, it missed a few salient points in the Bulger story.
He said in real life there were few if any redeeming characters such as the police officer played by Leonardo DiCaprio who infiltrates the gang and forms a close relationship with the larger-than-life mobster played by Jack Nicholson.
“There were no good guys in this saga,” said Carr.
Carr’s book explores how much state and city politicians knew about Bulger’s gang, and whether they tolerated its years of bookmaking, drug peddling, extortion and murder while Bulger’s brother, William, was a dominating force in state politics as Senate president.
David Wheeler, whose father was shot and killed by a hit man on Bulger’s orders in 1981, criticized the film for glossing over the government’s involvement in Bulger’s gang.
“In my opinion it’s a revisionist history that protects the guilty,” he said. “I cannot see this movie. It would just be too painful.”
In a 21-minute documentary on Bulger included in the DVD version of the film, which was released by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. Pictures, Scorsese puts some distance between the character of Frank Costello, played by Nicholson, and the real-life Boston gangster.
“In no way do we say that Francis Costello is patterned after Whitey Bulger. But let me put it this way: We felt comfortable in the character and in the situation because we know it to be true,” he said.