Whitey: United States of America vs. James. J. Bulger

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Whitey: United States of America vs. James. J. Bulger
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

A 16-year manhunt of Public Enemy No. 2 (No. 1 was, of course, Osama Bin Laden) resulted in the arrest of James “Whitey” Bulger” and the spectacular trial that brought the man to justice. Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger examines Bulger’s life as a criminal and the tentacles of corruption that reached all the way up to the FBI in “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”

Robin:
Joe Berlinger has been making documentaries for a quarter century, first coming to prominence with “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hill,” about the controversial West Memphis 3 and the heinous crimes they were purported to commit. He stays with the crime and punishment genre with “Whitey” and it is a true monster story.

Using interview footage of prosecutors, defenders, FBI, local and state police, witnesses and the family members of Bulger’s victims, Berlinger paints a disturbing picture of how the man used the system for many years to, literally, get away with murder. One of the many questions raised is: How did Whitey Bulger run a crime syndicate, known as the Winter Hill Gang, untouched by local, state and federal justice systems? The answer is disturbing and questions the honesty of law enforcement officials who are supposed to protect the people, not the criminal who threatened their very lives.

While “Whitey” will have direct appeal to us in the Boston area, it is a documentary of importance to the rest of the country, too. It opens a window on how absolute corruption corrupts absolutely, and not just among thieves. I give it a B.

Laura:
In 2011, the man sitting in the #2 slot on the FBI's most wanted list (after Osama Bin Laden) was found living the life of a retiree in Santa Monica.  The murderous leader of Boston's Winter Hill Gang for 30 years had long been called an informant, FBI Agent John Connelly serving time (recently overturned by the Florida courts) for second degree murder after tipping the mobster off on a marked victim's whereabouts.  But director Joe Berlinger (the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, "Crude") questions long held opinions when he covers the man's trial in "Whitey: United States of America vs. James. J. Bulger."

The first story we hear about Whitey is from Stephen Rakes, an extortion victim whose hopes about getting his day in court were cut short when his body was found in a wooded suburb with the trial in progress.  It's not until the closing credits that Berlinger informs his audience that the killer was found and had nothing to do with Bulger's trial, instead allowing his audience to speculate, just as the people of Boston did.  It's one more bizarre mystery surrounding Whitey Bulger, the model for Jack Nicholson's character in Martin Scorsese's Oscar winning film "The Departed" and the brother of former Massachusetts Senate President Bill.

Interspersed among many overhead shots of the Moakley Courthouse (no cameras were allowed inside) are interviews with family of Bulger's victims, many of whom believe the FBI and Department of Justice were complicit in the deaths of their loved ones.  While Bulger's defense tries to make the case that not only was he was not an informant nor a killer of women, but that he had immunity from prosecution from New England Organized Crime Strike Force Chief Jeremiah O’Sullivan after Whitey agreed to protect him from fallout over the prosecution of Italian mobster Gennaro Angiulo, prosecutors accuse them of creating a smokescreen and the judge states that the FBI and Department of Justice are not on trial.

Whitey is now barred from interviews, but Berlinger includes his voice during a telephone conversation with his defense attorney J.W. Carney, Jr. in which he states the above.  He may be spending the rest of his days in prison, but Whitey doesn't his record smeared with violations of an unwritten gangster's code.  The men who testified he killed two women are his own former hitman who made plea deals for their cooperation.  Berlinger shows how Anguilo's prosecution was backed by tips from Bulger the man claimed never to have made.  The documents themselves are examined and found to be highly suspicious.  If true multiple Mafia convictions would disintegrate.  We hear from lawmen whose own suspicions caused them to be pilloried by their own.

The arrest of Whitey Bulger was one of those surprising events that many thought they'd never see, but Berlinger's documentary suggests that while the man was clearly guilty of a myriad of crimes, our own government enabled him.  Berlinger's work has revealed the warped wheels of the American justice system before, garnering a groundswell of support for the West Memphis Three.  With "Whitey," he's casting an ever wider net.

B+
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