Friday, May 9, 2014

Hot Docs 2014 Film Review - Whitey The United States of America vs James J. Bulger.

The first person on screen is an extortion victim. He is an elderly man but as he tells his account it is easy to see that these events are fresh in his mind as if they just occurred yesterday. As liquor storeowner he was confronted at his first door by Bulger and an associate. He is told that the men are here to kill him but they don't want to do it. Instead they will become his partners. When the victim protests his family is brought into the equation. The main think he remembers is Bulger standing in is doorway grinding his teeth and appearing that he was ready to do just about anything.

Director Joe Berlinger presents an all encompassing piece on Buglers life centred around the trial that commenced on June 12, 2013. The documentary features a unique interviewing style of the main players. They mainly told their story as they were driving to and from the courthouse. The courthouse itself was another character in the story with many overhead sweeping shots of the building use to signal the next day of testimony starting then to end the events of the day. Since the production team was not allowed to film their main subject overhead shots were also used of the prison to situate Bulger along with conversations with his legal team that were voiced in reenactments.

The piece focused on three relatives of the 19 victims that Bulger was accused of killing. Steve Davis the brother of Debra Davis, Michael Donahue's wife and son Patricia and Tommy Donahue and son and the afore mentioned liquor store owner Stephen Rakes. The relatives tell the story of their loved ones how their murders gong back 30 years still effect them daily and how that are looking forward to their day in court a chance to face Bulger face to face and the unexpected opportunity for Justice.

The documentary uses excellent devices to transition from the present to the past. An overhead shot of a Boston neighbourhood in colour that changes to black and white as details of Bulgers past life are presented on screen.

The main question of the Documentary is how Bulger the reported leader of the Winter Hill Gang had  never been charged by the police. Was it because he was a F.B.I. informant under the care of John Donnelly or was he as Bulger presented a powerful local boy who paid off the F.B.I., Local Police and the States Attorney's office to be left alone. Berlinger presents the information on film that shows three corrupt levels of policing who were defacto Winer Hill Gang members and who all except for Donnelly got away with their entanglement with Bulger scott free.

Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger is a dense presentation that features a lot of interwoven material. The film is greatly helped by the soundtrack that helps to keep the viewer engaged and the story moving. The episode the still pretty fresh from the newspaper pages and Bulger has been the direct or implied subject in media and film projects before but Berlinger has crafted a valuable take on an underworld figure that is seen in some circles as a popular folk hero.

*** out of 4.

Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger | James Berlinger |  U.S.A. | 2014| 120 minutes.

Tags: Crime, Trial, Boston, Murder, Extortion, F.B.I. , States Attorney's Office, Department of Justice, Winter Hill Gang.

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