The height of James “Whitey” Bulger’s influential rein of the streets of south Boston was before my time, and I didn’t really have any idea of who he was, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to go see a documentary about one of the biggest mobsters in Boston’s history. I mean, how can you go wrong watching a film like that?
Joe Berlinger’s film Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger centers around Bulger’s trial concerning his 32 counts of racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and weapons charges, including his involvement with 19 murders. The trial took place two years after he was captured in 2011, after spending 16 years in hiding on the most wanted list.
With such an extensive portfolio of charges, it didn’t seem too questionable that Whitey would be guilty on multiple accounts and be locked up for a long time. So why make a documentary about it? What needs to be further explained that the news hasn’t covered? Well, although Whitey was what the film revolved around, I would hardly say that is what the movie is really about.
What is interesting and compelling about the film, is that it starts to unravel the government’s role in the corruption of Boston, and specifically to several families directly affected by Bulger.
Being the man he was, Whitey had connections all over law enforcement, from a local to a federal level. He lasted decades performing illegal acts as heavy as murder, and another 16 years hiding before anything actually caught up to him, and this was all to do with corruption in the government. At least that’s how some people in the film feel. The film really dives into Whitey’s connections with FBI officials and others that surrounded him, which really says more about our government than it does him.
Now of course there are two sides to every story, and Berlinger does an excellent job finding people to speak on each one. Interviewees range from current and former officials to previous associates of Bulger to lawyers from both sides of the case. Audio from the actual court case is used as well. We even get to hear from several Boston citizens that were directly affected by the murders, and their takes on both Bulger and the government’s involvement.
The film is a very fair documentary that is represented by both sides of the argument, and is left open at the end to not sway the audience to think one way or the other. However, if any of what the government denies to be accurate in this film brought by the opposing side is true, it tears a giant hole in the cloak that it hides behind. I felt it was a great documentary that is worth the watch to see what you may think to be the case.