Second only to Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted list during most of the past decade (and nowhere near as charming as Jack Nicholson’s spin on him in The Departed), James “Whitey” Bulger ruled South Boston for decades until going into hiding for 16 years. His 2011 capture and eventual trial emboldened many who had lived in fear: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, a tough-minded true-crime doc, starts dramatically by tapping into this rage, as the relatives of murdered victims seek closure and local journalists hope for more than a confession.
Director Joe Berlinger is a stone-cold master at chronicling this kind of legal reckoning; as with his landmark West Memphis Three trilogy, Paradise Lost, he veers away from the obvious to address a tougher truth, this time about citywide corruption and the likelihood that Bulger was protected by the Feds as an informant. Occasionally the Irish names pile up confusingly, and Berlinger needs to give his heavy-metal backdrop music a rest, but this is still one of his most ambitious films, vibrating with the same municipal unease as Chinatown.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf