Joe Berlinger doesn’t tackle simple topics for his
documentaries, and the latest is no exception. Whitey is a hard-hitting, multifaceted look at the violent exploits
of Boston crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and the case that the U.S. Department of
Justice mounted against him after years of what we’ll politely call inaction.
How Bulger ruled over Boston with seeming impunity, with
multiple murders and countless misdeeds on his résumé, is scrutinized in this
compelling film. As in any saga this vast, there are differing viewpoints on
how and why he escaped scot-free so long. Berlinger interviews Bulger’s defense
attorneys and even allows us to hear the man himself in telephone
conversations. We also get to know victims of his crimes and their family
members, former F.B.I. officials, and Department of Justice attorneys involved
with the case. Whom you choose to believe is up to you, although Berlinger
makes it difficult to put much faith in law enforcement. (No one from the
Bureau was willing to appear on camera.)
The film also raises some questions it doesn’t choose to
answer. The fact that Bulger’s brother became a State Senator of Massachusetts is
mentioned only once. The fact that some of his victims may not have been
entirely innocent is another troubling matter.
I doubt that any
documentary could cover all aspects of the story, which has already inspired
fictional treatment (in The Departed),
with more yet to come. But Whitey
whets one’s appetite to learn more and ask pointed questions about the nature
of crime and corruption. You can’t take your eyes off the screen.