Mugshot of James "Whitey" Bulger at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, from the film (courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Director of the Paradise Lost trilogy, Joe Berlinger, is back with another fascinating documentary. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger is a captivating look into the criminal trial of the famed mob boss.
James “Whitey” Bulger ran the streets of Boston in the late ’70s and ’80s with an iron fist as a head of the Winter Hill Gang. Receiving a tip in 1994 that the FBI were going to indict him, Bulger fled, becoming one of America’s most wanted fugitives for 16 years until his arrest in 2011. He managed to live under the radar with an alias and his longtime girlfriend in Santa Monica, Calif.
This documentary might have seemed almost impossible to make since covering the trial with cameras was forbidden and access to Whitey was restricted. However, Berlinger does a great job with creating a full story with lawyers from both the prosecution and defense, journalists, families of the victims and in-depth interviews with some of his former associates. Conversations were also taped with Bulger and his defense attorney, along with sketches and excerpts from the courtroom.
When the entire story is given light, there are so many questions that needed to be asked. How did this man get away with literal murder and corruption without so much as a misdemeanor? The FBI likes to paint a picture that Whitey was an informant who helped bring down some of the most notorious Italian mob bosses at the time, while Whitey and his team would argue that he was not a rat and given ample freedom to run his criminal activities.
The film isn’t so much as to find out whether or not he’s guilty or innocent, rather it seeks to uncover the amount of involvement the FBI and District Attorney’s offices really played in helping him continue his reign of terror. The families of Bulger’s victims are frustrated with the government and want the truth, which they feel is being withheld. Their anger and hurt is never steered away from Bulger, however, they also blame the government for allowing him years and years of freedom.
With first-hand accounts of what happened coming directly from Kevin Weeks, one of Whitey’s associates, is chilling. There appears to be no amount of remorse as the stories are being told. He is very matter of fact, with cold quotes like, “He unfortunately was an unintended victim. Hang with criminals, and that’s what happens.”
Whitey doesn’t say he didn’t commit all these crimes of murder and racketeering, but refuses to be called a rat. He will go to his grave arguing that he “was paying, not saying.” That corrupt FBI officials John Connolly and John Morris sanctioned his activities, and he never revealed any helpful information.
Bulger, now 84 years old, was convicted of 31 counts, including 11 murders and will be serving two back-to-back life sentences, while some of his associates are already out free. This is a chilling documentary that displays serious corruption at some of the highest levels.
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
Currently in select theaters
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