Review: ‘Whitey’ portrays the maddening prosecution of James J. Bulger

James "Whitey" Bulger is seen in this mugshot from the Boston Police Department. Credit: Magnolia Pictures
James “Whitey” Bulger is seen in this mugshot from the Boston Police Department.
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger’
Director: Joe Berlinger
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

What A documentary look at the various pains in what turned out to be the mostly successful prosecution of James “Whitey” Bulger, notorious South Boston crime boss.

Just the fact Director Joe Berlinger, with Bruce Sinofsky, directed the “Paradise Lost” documentaries, which helped draw attention to the West Memphis Three case.

The lowdown The pursuit of Bulger, once ranked just after Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, would make a movie of its own. (And one with Johnny Depp is in the works.) But this doc focuses on the lead-up to the 2013 trial that fit him with two life sentences, which is fascinating in its own right. The materials required to mount an air-tight case against him turned out to lacking — documents missing or badly filled-out, witnesses who get cold feet (or, in one case, wind up mysteriously dead). Plus Bulger’s testimony could implicate not only other crime figures but corruption in the FBI and the American justice system. It’s a giant mess, and at times “Whitey” plays like David Fincher’s “Zodiac”: a mass of dead ends and bureaucratic incompetence that makes you wonder how justice is ever achieved, if at all. Director Joe Berlinger fills this out by talking to victims or victims’ families, all clamoring for closure and stuck watching as the mob boss gets off relatively light, considering his damage. Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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