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‘Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger’ reinforces a stirring mob mentality

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Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
Written and directed by Joe Berlinger
USA, 2014

The city of Boston was indeed his perverse playground for criminal terror and destruction. The reign of the powerful and ruthless Irish mob boss and gang leader James “Whitey” Bulger that fearfully oversaw his native Southie section and beyond with a notorious iron fist is the alarming subject of acclaimed Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s revealing, absorbing and troubling documentary Whitey: The United States v. James J. Bulger.

Outwardly disturbing, Berlinger’s (“Paradise Lost”) unsettling account of the law-breaking sociopath Whitey Bulger is interestingly recalled in detail surrounding the South Boston crime lord’s publicized federal court trial in Boston. Ironically, Bulger’s sensationalized days in court would not be far from the South Boston streets where he operated, intimidated and manipulated his way into becoming one of the most dangerous and infamous criminal mind personalities to ever emerge out of the New England region. Unapologetic, vile, corruptible and cold-hearted, Bulger was an opportunistic mover-and-shaker that climbed the criminal ranks with cunning precision. He was calculating and connected in all sorts of debauchery: racketeering, murder, drugs, bribery, etc. Berlinger delves into the Boston-based societal menace as he examines the madness and the chilling impact he left on the many victims and their families, journalists, former associates and state and federal law enforcement–both crooked and straight-laced–on board to offer painful insight on a monster that destroyed, paralyzed and corrupted lives with recurring evilness.

The incredulous factor surrounding Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger was the scary notion as to how such a maligned felonious figurehead got so influential in the first place. Whitey Bulger was shifty in his rise to criminal dominance as his affiliations with other terrorizing outfits such as the Winter Hill Gang and the slow dismantling of the Italian mob in Boston enabled his twisted drive to the top of the hustling heap. It did not hurt that Whitey was the sibling to prominent Massachusetts politician William “Billy” Bulger or that he had infiltrated some key authorities at the local, state and federal levels of law enforcement agencies. Bulger was able to capitalize on crucial relationships with so-called crime-busters such as disgraced FBI agent John Connolly instrumental in tipping off the misguided “South Boston savior” if any heat was heading his direction. Sadly, top-level governmental officials looked the other way as they turned a blind eye to Bulger’s highly questionable “business ventures” that ultimately cost many people their lives.

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As Bulger reigned over a cozy criminal empire in Boston during his heyday before his hasty man-on-the-lam routine after being tipped off that the authorities were gunning for him much could be said about the culpability of the Boston FBI, the Justice Department and the Massachusetts state police that all had a hand in enabling this dangerous thug in conducting his vast enterprise of crippling fear to helpless business owners or anyone that got in the path of Whitey’s reckless radar.

Understandably, the sole survivors of Bulger’s tortured and murdered victims show immense disdain for the so-called “protectors of the law” that allowed themselves to be tainted by Whitey’s poisoned “hush money”. It is so sad in watching these inconsolable folks chime in on the outrage and genuine disgust they feel for the dirty authorities as much as they do for wanting James “Whitey” Bulger’s head on a silver platter. Collectively, Whitey Bulger and his cohorts with and without badges managed to create a nightmarish cloud that none of these inconsolable people will ever quite shake out of their delicate psyches.

Whitey Bulger’s hasty retreat from the Bay State in 1995 where he was on the run with his trusty female companion would label him a famed fugitive until his long-awaited capture sixteen years later in California. When you are on the FBI’s most wanted list just behind Osama Bin Laden this does not exactly make James “Whitey” Bulger a mild traffic violator. Bulger’s newsworthy arrest in custody may have triggered an immense sigh of relief after all the suffering and chaos that he and fellow mobster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi drummed up over the years to disillusioned Bostonians everywhere. However, Bulger left a tidal wave of grief, despair, loss, indignation and fueled antagonism that may never subside in the true souls he impacted so severely with his deception and deviance.

In many ways, Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger does not begin to scratch the surface of a vicious broken man whose life of crime was such an abomination to afflicted generations of New Englanders that were close in proximity to an out-of-control devil that demanded disorder and devastation. Still, Berlinger brings Bulger’s wicked and warped world to the forefront enough so that we witness a breakdown of trust and a taste of tragedy to try and comprehend with disbelieving eyes.

–Frank Ochieng


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