Friday, June 27, 2014

Movie with Abe: Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger

Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Released June 27, 2014

Whitey Bulger is a name that most people know, even if some don't know exactly why they know him. The Boston mobster was well-known in and out of his city, never charged with any crime up until his disappearance in the early 1990s following news of an impending arrest. Being second on America’s Most Wanted list after only Osama Bin Laden is quite a feat, and it’s that reputation of one Whitey Bulger that sustains this examination of his life, his crimes, and how some differ on whether he is the one most accountable for his criminal behavior.

As evidenced by its title, this film approaches its subject matter by dealing primarily with the highly publicized court case that found Bulger on trial for a number of assorted crimes including extortion and murder. It recounts the events discussed during the trial by looking at the players in great detail, and interviewing family members of those whose lives were taken directly or indirectly by Bulger. While he is certainly guilty of something, the film doesn’t directly assign blame or target Bulger, but it does stack considerable testimony against him.

Where this documentary takes a more interesting and hard-hitting turn is in its indictment of local and federal law enforcement authorities for their role in allowing Bulger to operate. Whether or not Bulger was an informant is up for debate, and it’s a question the film is not able to answer. Its importance is paramount, since sanctioning the activities they would have known Bulger was involved in is morally questionable in itself. The film’s extended title is telling, implicating the U.S. government and those charged with carrying out justice alongside one of its most notorious offenders.

What the film doesn’t do, and its creators can hardly be blamed, is get the chance to see and hear from Bulger himself. The picture of Bulger is painted by those who knew him or knew of him, and as a result it’s hard to really tell who the man was and is. Whitey Bulger is a legend whose full identity has not yet been revealed, and this otherwise insightful documentary doesn’t offer many clues as to his true nature. As a chronological catalogue of Bulger’s operations and the many red flags throughout his life, this film succeeds, even if it doesn’t have the opportunity to truly and accurately analyze its protagonist.


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