Joe Berlinger made his name as codirector of the Paradise Lost trilogy, the epic trio of documentaries about an Arkansas murder investigation that went places the filmmakers couldn't have imagined and actually changed the course of history. With his new Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, Berlinger again dives into a sordid crime saga, one that's possibly even twistier.
The twistiness of the James "Whitey" Bulger story begins at the roots, with the fact that there is no one Whitey Bulger story—"the Whitey Bulger story" is, as much as anything, a fight to establish said story, with two narratives battling it out for prominence. The first story, put forth by prosecutors during Bulger's 2013 murder trial, paints Bulger as a ruthless killer and blackmailer who lorded over the streets of South Boston as a non-mafia crime boss during the '70s and '80s, while simultaneously serving as an informant for the FBI.
The second story, put forth by the man himself, paints Bulger as a ruthless killer and blackmailer who lorded over the streets of South Boston as a non-mafia crime boss during the '70s and '80s—but who never, ever cooperated with the FBI or any other law enforcement agency. His extensively documented interactions with the FBI were, Bulger attests, based not on him providing information to the Feds, but on corrupt FBI agents selling info—about wiretaps and impending indictments—to Bulger.