Whitey: United States of America -v- James J. Bulger Blu-ray Review
Most dangerous criminals keep a low profile. Not James “Whitey” Bulger. He ruled over the streets of Boston for almost 30 years until a tip from the FBI in 1996 caused him to leave town and go into hiding. Yes, you read that right. The FBI told him he was going to be arrested. With friends like that….
For many years Bulger was 2nd on the TOP TEN WANTED LIST, second only behind Osama bin Laden. When he was finally apprehended in California in 2011, word spread that he had escaped arrest for years because he was an informant for the FBI. As he is preparing for trial, having been charged with 32 counts of racketeering and 19 more for murder, Bulger protests. Not that he dealt drugs, stole money or had people killed. But that he was a rat. It’s as if being labeled a snitch could hurt his reputation. The odd thing is, he might be telling the truth.
The film does a great job in detailing the history of not only Bulger’s career but that of FBI agent John Connolly, who maintained to his superiors for many years that Bulger was a snitch. Bulger’s attorneys do their best to disprove this, using the government’s own documents against them. We also get to hear Bulger himself, though phone conversations with his attorney. As the trial approaches, we are also introduced to various victims of Bulger’s crimes. A man who was embezzled 30 years ago is itching to testify, as is a friend of his, whose sister had dated Bulger’s right hand man and was later murdered. We also meet the Donahue family. Mr. Donahue was gunned down in his car, his only crime being giving his neighbor a ride home. His neighbor was the intended victim. As the trial begins, the government scrambles to prove, above all of the charges, that Bulger was an informant. Documents submitted seem to prove this out. Only later, when the defense produces the same documents, without editing, does it seem that he wasn’t. The man who had been embezzled is suddenly told by the prosecution he would not be testifying. Two days later he’s found dead. The Donahue family can’t understand why, when a question about Mr. Donahue’s is asked, the government objects to an answer being given.
As the film gets more into the trial, it’s obvious that the government is still protecting Bulger. In one scene, we ride along with Mr. Donahue’s family on the way to court. They’re vehicle is made to pull over as Bulger’s police caravan to court passes them. The lengths taken for Bulger are incredulous to believe until you realize that the government has a lot to lose if it turns out they looked the other way without Bulger giving them information. Search warrants, allegedly based on information supplied by Bulger, would be nullified. The families of people killed could file civil law suits. Bulger himself claims that, in order for protection, a high ranking justice department official gave him immunity from his crimes. Why would he have to be a rat if he had immunity?
Director Berlinger, who did the amazing PARADISE LOST series about the West Memphis Three, does a fine job of distributing all of the information fairly and letting the audience make up its mind. “Whitey” Bulger was a terrible man (Jack Nicholson’s character in THE DEPARTED was molded on Bulger). And the FBI wasn’t much better.
Video: Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film is presented sharp and clear. Even archived footage, like grainy video surveillance images from 1980, is well transferred.
Audio: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the sound is clear and sharp. The volume is evenly mixed and the narration never bleeds over the source audio being presented.
Deleted scenes (12:51): Several scenes not included in the film that are actually quite interesting. One deals with murder victim Donahue’s son, who reveals that he carries his father’s death certificate with him always. He notes that the cause of death is listed as “multiple gunshot wounds,” and maintains that part of “multiple” includes the FBI. Another long scene talks with the sister of a victim who gives a face to the man killed.
Interviews at the Sundance Film Festival (4:27): Conversations with director Joe Berlinger and others on the red carpet at Sundance.