If you’re not already familiar with James “Whitey” Bulger, Joe Berlinger’s scattershot documentary Whitey won’t be much help. It assumes you know the case and spends little time getting into Bulger’s backstory.

Then again, is much backstory needed? James “Whitey” Bulger is a Boston gangster. He participated in many killings. He fled Boston and lived incognito on the west coast for a decade and a half. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed owes a lot to Bulger’s legacy.

And speaking of legacies, Whitey attempts, lamely, to answer the central Whitey Bulger question: Was the gangster actually an FBI informant? Bulger insists he was not. The FBI is (on screen, anyway) cagey about it.

At the end of the day, whether Bulger was an informant seems to be the most important thing to him, and Berlinger lets Bulger (via a phone interview with his attorney) say over and over again that he was not. Maybe it’s easier to survive prison if you’re not a rat.

Whatever the case, Whitey doesn’t make for compelling viewing unless you’re fascinated by this stuff to begin with. There are better mafia stories and better courtroom dramas (though it’s not Berlinger’s fault that cameras were not allowed in court). And the families of Bulger’s victims seem to get the short end of the stick. Again.


Directed by Joe Berlinger

CCA Cinematheque

107 min.