Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Whitey: The United States vs. Public Enemy #2
James J. “Whitey” Bulger, the leader of the Winter Hill Gang and his brother,
former Massachusetts Senate President William M. Bulger, the Brothers Bulger long
ruled Boston from both ends of the law. Bulger the politician was never implicated
in his brothers crimes, but his refusal to reveal communications received from
the fugitive James J. effectively ended his public career. However, it now
seems Whitey Bulger had such highly placed protectors in the FBI he would not have
needed much help from his brother. Joe Berlinger documents the revelations and
controversies that emerged during Bulger’s highly anticipated trial in WHITEY: United States of America v. James J.
opens this Friday in New York.
will not hear the name William Bulger much in Berlinger’s WHITEY, nor hear from probably the brothers’ greatest media critic,
the defiant radio talk show host, Howie Carr. However, viewers will hear an
awful lot from the titular Bulger. Indeed, Berlinger features extensive
telephone interviews with the convicted murderer, presented sans rebuttal.
Frankly, it is rather strange the extent to which Berlinger adopts Bulger’s
narrative as the film’s own—so much so, one almost expect him to receive a
course, Bulger’s guilt is never in question. Instead, Bulger’s general defense
strategy is to cloud the issue as much as possible, while causing maximum
discomfort for the Feds. The central issue is whether Bulger really served as a
government informant, dropping dimes on the competition, or if the late U.S.
Attorney granted him immunity in exchange for protection from the Italian mafia
Berlinger’s editorial tone almost slides into Bulger apologetics, he is always
scrupulously sensitive when dealing with victims and their family members.
Tragically, the filmmakers faced a shocking challenge when Stephen Rakes, one
of the potential witnesses they were following through the trial, was dramatically
murdered. Supposedly, it turned out to be an unrelated case, but there is a note
of skepticism detectable in the doc—for good reason.
and his assembled talking heads leave no doubt in viewers’ mind that a corrupt echelon
in the FBI protected Bulger for no legitimate law enforcement reason. They are
morally complicit in several murders—and perhaps legally complicit too. They
also helped ruin the sport of Jai Alai for the rest of us, which is one of the film’s
most intriguing episodes that could have been explored further (and perhaps was in the
longer Sundance cut). In fact, Berlinger’s WHITEY
somewhat rights itself when it becomes a conscious and deliberate
vindication of Special Agent Robert Fitzpatrick, who tried to sever agency ties
to the mobster. (Full disclosure, my house published Fitzpatrick’s book, but we
have never met.)
will once more shake viewers’ depleted faith in
the Federal government, while chronicling some morbidly fascinating criminal
history. However, it has a tendency to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The
actions of Bulger’s handlers were badly misguided and downright criminal, but
he remains the worst of the lot. The resulting doc holds one’s rapt attention,
but leaves you feeling a little queasy, as if you have been getting an earful
from Bulger himself (which is sort of the case). Recommended mainly for true
crime fans, WHITEY opens this Friday
(6/27) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Documentary, Whitey Bulger