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Originally published Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 3:15 PM

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‘Whitey’: a long, tangled tale of justice

A review of “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” a documentary focusing on the Boston crime boss. The movie is rated three stars out of four by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,’ a documentary directed by Joe Berlinger. 107 minutes. Rated R for language and some crime-scene images. Sundance Cinemas (21+).

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Longtime Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger became, over the decades, a figure of notoriety and legend: After violently holding the city hostage for nearly three decades of murder and racketeering, he went into hiding in 1995 and for years was No. 2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list — right below Osama bin Laden. Arrested in California in 2011, the now-elderly Bulger finally faced trial back home in Boston. Would the families of his many victims finally see justice? Would the rumors of his relationship with the FBI (was he a protected informant, and was that why it took so long to find him?) be aired and answered?

Documentarian Joe Berlinger, who followed the trial in “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” is no stranger to criminal trials; he spent years documenting the case of the West Memphis Three in his trilogy “Paradise Lost.” Here, though, he faces the challenges of a far more complex story (multiple crimes and victims, spread out over many years, along with conflicting government evidence) not to mention a court that wouldn’t allow cameras to be present. “Whitey” becomes an intriguing knot, with its many voices as tangled strands; you sense that this film really needed to be longer, to have a little more room to breathe.

Within the confines of an under-two-hours running time, however, Berlinger does an impressive job of keeping the film coherent and often fascinating. (He solves the no-cameras-in-court problem, mostly efficiently, by having witnesses repeat their testimony in interviews, or by letting us read testimony in titles.) Ultimately, two faces remain with us: a cold-eyed, white-haired man who doesn’t mind being called a murderer but bristles at being called a snitch — and a widow with an unflinching gaze, who decades after her husband’s death at Bulger’s hands draws strength from the possibility of long-deferred justice. “When you lose somebody, there’s no time,” she says. “It’s like it was yesterday.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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