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Movie Review: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
  • July 11, 2014 : 18:07
  • comments

Director: Joe Berlinger
Rating: R
Studio: CNN Films
Stars: Stephen Rakes, James 'Whitey' Bulger, Tommy Donahue

This absorbing, unsettling, sometimes maddeningly complex documentary from filmmaker Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy) details the trial of modern-day monster Whitey Bulger, the Irish gang lord and extortionist who terrorized Boston businesses throughout the 1970s and ’80s. In The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, screenwriter William Monahan fictionalized the notorious Winter Hill gang leader as “Frank Costello” and Jack Nicholson played him; Johnny Depp plays Bulger himself in a film due out next year. Behind the real-life, delusional Bulger’s self-created mask as a kind of Robin Hood was a psychopath who made it a point of honor to insist he never snitched. In this film, we hear him boast in a phone interview, “I never cracked in prison.” Yet he left in his wake scores of vicious crimes, murdered victims and justice-seeking survivors who for decades have watched in enraged helplessness as Bulger “mysteriously” avoided prosecution. One of the most damning implications of the movie is that, in fact, Bulger bought himself protection from prosecution by paying off the FBI and local law enforcement officials. Although he ranked second under Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, he wasn’t even found, arrested and charged with 19 counts of murder until he was 81 years old and discovered living secretly with his younger girlfriend in Santa Monica, California.

Director Berlinger artfully mixes archival material, surveillance footage and trial data with new interviews with victims’ family members, lawyers, retired law enforcement and an FBI agent to put a human face on Bulger’s crimes and to point a finger at high-level corruption that helped Bulger not only to survive and thrive but also to plan his escape. Whitey is so well done that it earns our outrage.

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