Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) takes on another wide-ranging and controversial subject with his latest film, Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger. In the film, Berlinger tackles the story of notorious gangster Whitey Bulger, who was on the lam for 20 years before being put on trial last year, at the age of 83, for a series of murders and other crimes.
Using the trial as a springboard, Berlinger explores the myth of Bulger, focusing specifically on Bulger’s claims that he wasn’t an FBI informant (which the FBI claims he was). “The film in no way is a Bulger apology,” Berlinger explains to Deadline. “Bulger was a vicious, brutal killer who did terrible things, but he was enabled by the government, he was allowed to kill. You know the accepted story about Bulger that people have written books and made movies about; he was an FBI informant. It’s bad enough as an FBI informant, FBI agents look the other way and in some cases aided and abetted some murders by giving him information. This is the first time Bulger has ever been heard from. Despite the glut of media, the dozen books, the Affleck-Damon movie, the fictionalized version in The Departed, as the film unfolds you see there is very strong evidence he may have not been an informant at all. That it was a scam, a cover-up for much deeper corruption on a couple of levels.”
Feeling it his duty to present this version of events, which was not allowed in court, spurred Berlinger to finish this film. But as he explains with all of his documentary films, he goes in not knowing what the story will be. “These are the things that I love about what I do,” he says. “The scary and great part is, you don’t know what the outcome is, it’s the antithesis of narrative scripted filmmaking. Not that one’s better or worse, but following a story as it’s unfolding and then turning it into a narrative is a very difficult thing to do.”
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