The grim joke in Boston around the time of the highway renovation project known as the Big Dig, which ran a tunnel under the Charles River, was that the rash of bodies being exhumed as investigators were building their case against mobster Whitey Bulger represented the Little Dig. When Bulger was finally arrested in Santa Monica in 2011, a report noted he risked being shot by police rather than drop to his knees as ordered, because he didn’t want to get his pants dirty.
Such details might have leavened Investigation Discovery’s “Whitey Bulger: The Making of a Monster,” which plays like a breathless rap sheet that pauses mainly to wade in the mobster’s trail of blood in its headlong rush to a too-short 43-minute finish (excluding commericals).
Based on a book by former Boston Globe journos Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, the docu chronicles Bulger’s rise though the criminal underworld in South Boston in an arc reminiscent of something out of “The Sopranos,” only without the bada-bing. Between the steady stream of cheesy re-enactments (the square-jawed Carl Hosea plays a near-wordless Bulger), and Dakota Lacroix’s stridently portentous narration, are interviews with Lehr; two members of Bulger’s Winter Hill gang; and police, including former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick. It was Fitzpatrick who smelled a rat in the FBI’s longtime protection of the Irish gangster as an informant on Boston’s Italian mob, believing him to deliver, in the agent’s estimation, a limited return on investment. (Jack Nicholson’s role in “The Departed” is based on Bulger, another tidbit the docu neglects.)
By far, “Making of a Monster’s” most illuminating and entertaining interviewee is Lindsey Cyr, a girlfriend and contemporary of the now 83-year-old mobster, who she met after he had served nine years in prison, much of it in Alcatraz (a pair of photos show his chilling transformation from young, neighborhood perp to hardened criminal). A few days after seducing her, he revealed his line of business: “He said, ‘I’m interested in loan-sharking and gambling,’ ” Cyr says. “I said, ‘That’s no big thing.’ ”
Soon afterward, Bulger commits his first murder and has a child with Cyr, who refuses to terminate the pregnancy despite Bulger’s insistence. When the boy dies of complications of Reye’s Syndrome, her relationship with Bulger sours. “He’d lost a lot of his sense of fun,” she says, without a scintilla of irony.
The documakers deserve credit for knowing that the mobster’s lineage is as compelling a part of the Bulger story as the FBI angle. Bulger’s younger brother Billy was a powerful Massachusetts state politico who pulled strings to secure Whitey’s release from Alcatraz. But “Monster” ham-fistedly tries to tie him to Whitey’s business, declaring at one point that Billy owned a house located across the street from where Whitey and a colleague engineered a particularly brutal murder. The evidence doesn’t feel as strong as that contained in a “60 Minutes” piece on Billy in 1992, a few years short of Whitey becoming a fugitive, when the smiling politician told Morley Safer he met with his older brother regularly.
No mention of that interview is included here, as the doc dwells on the number of murders (19) Whitey is accused of having committed, the exact manner in which he is said to have taken pains to make sure some victims couldn’t be identified. And why Triple O’s Lounge in Southie was nicknamed the bucket of blood.
“Making of a Monster” airs June 3, a week before the start of the federal trial against the mobster is set to begin in Boston. Those eager to see Whitey get his due should hope prosecutors have a better case against him than the docu makes against Billy.