Friday, 18 April 2014

WHITEY: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. JAMES J. BULGER, Review By Greg Klymkiw, HotDocs2014: MustSee#1

Alcatraz Mugshot of Boston Mob Boss Whitey Bulger

Whitey: The United States of America V. James J. Bulger
Dir. Joe Berlinger (2014) *****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Movies seldom open with the kind of chilling first few minutes that Joe Berlinger's new picture delivers. Stephen Rakes, a gentle white haired teddy bear of a man speaks with a born and bred South Boston accent - the tail-end "r" becomes the telltale "ah", "ing" is always the contraction "'in" and the letter "o", a slightly elongated "aahh". His first few words are an immediately identifiable amalgam of long-ago-lost hope and sadness:
"30 years ago my wife and I purchased a liquor licence and we had the liquor store up and runnin' by Christmas. We poured our heart and soul into it."
A young couple's dream come true becomes a nightmare.
Then lo and behold I gets a knock on my door one night. I'm at the house and my wife is down at the liquor store workin'. And there's Kevin Weeks and Whitey Bulger at the door. . . what the hell did they want? He [Whitey] says 'Ya gotta problem.' I says, 'What problem?' He says, 'Listen, we were hired to kill you. . . you gotta understand, the other liquor stores, they hired us to kill you. . . but what we're gonna do instead of that is we're gonna become your partners.'
Deadly tools of the trade
I says, 'No, you're not becomin' my partners.' And Bulger's just starin' at me and he's grindin' his teeth: 'You don't understand, we're takin' the fuckin' liquor store.' I says, 'It's not for sale.' [Then he says] 'I'll fuckin' kill you. I'll stab you and then I'll kill you.' And then they pulled out a gun and I was like, 'Holy Fuck'. They picked up my kid, my daughter's only a year old. He says, 'It'd be terrible for this kid to grow up without a Father.'"
Stephen Rakes Imitates Whitey Bulger
From here, we're slam-bang even deeper into one of the most harrowing crime pictures ever made. This is no drama, however, but it's certainly imbued with a compulsive narrative expertly unfurled by ace documentary filmmaker Berlinger, co-director with Bruce Sinofsky of the classic West Memphis Three trilogy: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) and his powerful solo effort Crude (that exposed Chevron and its part in destroying the health and lives of tens of thousands of Ecuadorians when a huge chunk of the Rain Forest was irretrievably polluted by oil drilling).

Focusing on the extraordinary trial of Whitey Bulger, Berlinger's new film film works on several levels. First and foremost, it's a savage indictment of the extent to which the F.B.I.'s involvement in Bulger's crime kingdom went far over the line and, in fact, assisted with his reign of terror. Secondly, Berlinger has seemingly unfettered access to archival footage, F.B.I. surveillance film, the prosecution and defence teams, key witnesses (including Bulger's trusty right hand, killer Kevin Weeks) and the myriad of Bulger's victims. Finally, the picture superbly, nerve-shreddingly yields the shocking rags-to-riches rise of Bulger - an epic, Scorsese-like crime thriller presented with the rat-a-tat-tat of a 30s Warner Bros' Slavko Vorkapitch/Robert Wise-edited Gangster movie montages and a kind of jack-hammering "News On The March" coldcock to the face.

Now this is filmmaking!

The picture leaves you breathlessly agog at the utter brutality and sordid corruption of a system that allowed a monster like Bulger to get away with his crimes for so long. The human factor, as represented by Bulger's victims, is often heartbreaking to the point where one is moved to tears. Even more stunning is that Berlinger followed the convoluted trial for so long and with such dogged persistence, that we, the filmmaker and a friend of a key witness are actually present for the sickening on-camera revelation that a victim of Bulger's evil is rubbed out before he gets a chance to testify.

Bulger's kingdom of crime lasted 30 years without a single indictment thanks to the corruption of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation. It's a blight upon the institutional crime fighting apparatus of a government long notorious for looking the other way when it served the most nefarious needs for both individuals to feather their own nests and to shield a country fraught with pure evil in its highest echelons of power and supposed enforcement.

Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity, indeed.

Whitey: The United States of America V. James J. Bulger, already has masterpiece status affixed to it and will, no doubt remain a classic of great American cinema long after all of us have gone from this Earth. It's what cinema should be - it's for the ages.

On the heels of its world premiere at Sundance, the visionary Canadian company VSC (Video Services Corp.) presents the film's international premiere at Hot Docs 2014. For further information about playmates, showtimes and tickets, please contact the Hot Docs website HERE.

Here is a lovely selection of VSC (Video Service Corp.) titles you buy directly from the links below, and in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner: