‘Sin Eater’ review: FX film details the many ways Chicago private eye Anthony Pellicano crossed the line

Anthony Pellicano, now 78, remains imposing during an interview for “Sin Eater.”


If the fictional Hollywood fixer Ray Donovan from the Showtime series of the same name had used wiretaps more often than a baseball bat, he’d be Anthony Pellicano. Name a high-profile entertainment scandal from the 1980s or 1990s, and odds are the notorious and infamous Chicago-born private investigator was involved in one way or another, often operating outside the boundaries of the law.

Check out this excerpt of a telephone conversation between Pellicano and a female potential client, as heard in the two-part documentary “The New York Times Presents: Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano,” with both parts debuting Friday on FX and Hulu.

Client: “I need everything from refinement to baseball bats …”

‘Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano’


A two-part documentary premiering at 9 p.m. Friday on FX and streaming then on Hulu.

Pellicano: “Courtney, if you come to me, that’s the end of that. I’m an old-style Sicilian. I only go one way. I’m very heavy-handed, honey.”

Client: “I need heavy-handed, baby.”

With an impressive roster of films that includes “Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson,” “Framing Britney Spears” and “The Killing of Breonna Taylor,” the New York Times documentary brand has become synonymous with rock-solid, no-frills video journalism. “Sin Eater” doesn’t augment its reportage with elaborate, staged dramatizations., a la the recent Netflix docuseries “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street.” What you get are interviews with esteemed journalists such as Rachel Abrams and Liz Day of the Times, and Ned Zeman of Vanity Fair; a treasure trove of audio recordings from the FBI case file, and in the second episode, a sit-down interview with Pellicano himself, who is now 78 and out of prison, and remains imposing, crudely charming, blunt, self-deprecating and a little bit scary.

One of the first voices we hear in “Sin Eater” is that of Chris Rock, in a telephone call to Pellicano from two decades ago, with Rock seeking Pellicano’s help over the possibility of an allegation of a serious crime. (No charges were ever filed.) When Rock worries about this becoming a fatal blow to his career, Pellicano retorts, “You’re not going to get no blow to the career. It ain’t gonna happen. I’m not gonna let it happen. Just stick with me, baby. I’ll take care of it.”

Depending on which side of the conflict you were on, Anthony Pellicano saying “I’ll take care of it” was either deeply reassuring or would put chills down your spine. (In another recorded telephone conversation, Pellicano gets exasperated with a client and bellows, “Well then, how do you do it unless you threaten somebody? That’s the way everybody f-—ing moves for me, when I threaten their f—ing lives.”)

Part One also takes us back to Pellicano’s roots in Chicago. Pellicano joined the Army in the 1960s and was taught how to become a cryptographer, and when he got out, he got his private investigator’s license and set up an office in the Loop at 11 S. LaSalle St. His name started appearing in stories in the Chicago newspapers as a star P.I. who was skilled in cutting-edge surveillance and recording techniques. In 1982, Pellicano moved to California and shortly thereafter was hired by high-powered Hollywood attorney Howard Weitzman as an audio recording specialist who would to assist in the defense of John DeLorean, who was eventually acquitted of federal charges.

Anthony Pellicano is pictured in 1980, when he still was based in Chicago.

Sun-Times File

This was Pellicano’s entrée into the world of Hollywood. He became a ubiquitous figure, with A-list clients including Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise, as well as power brokers such as the late studio chief Brad Grey and the late Bert Fields, a legendary entertainment attorney. Says longtime entertainment mogul Ron Meyer, “Anthony was the real deal. He solved problems for people. … He was able to get things done that other people couldn’t get done.”

Thing is, Pellicano was getting things done via illegal wiretapping, blackmail, intimidation and threats. Journalist Anita Busch recounts how in 2002, she discovered her car had been vandalized and there was a piece of paper with the warning to “STOP” on the windshield, along with a dead fish and a rose. (To this day, Busch comes across as legitimately shaken by her experience.) In a lawsuit, she accused former high-powered agent Michael Ovitz of hiring Pellicano to frighten Busch away from reporting on Ovitz. Busch ultimately agreed to an undisclosed settlement with Ovitz.

Later in 2002, in a raid on Pellicano’s offices, the FBI discovered Pellicano had a sophisticated “War Room” filled with computers and recording devices, and they found two functional hand grenades and plastic explosives in a safe. This was the beginning of the end for Pellicano, who was arrested on a number of charges including racketeering, wiretapping and witness tampering in 2006 and eventually spent more than a decade in prison.

Still oozing hubris in present day, Pellicano submits to an extensive interview, telling interviewer Liz Day, “I was wiretapping in the ’60s. … Oh honey, that was a minor part of the risk. … You’re asking me if I did anything illegal? Of course I did.”

Asked how he found the state of the world in 2019, when he was released from prison, Pellicano growls, “It was distressing, disgusting. I came into a country that is no longer patriotic. A bunch of wimps and tattletales. Too much crybaby s— for me.” One of the last visuals we see is Pellicano appearing on set in 2021 with Tucker Carlson, who says, “We are honored to have him join us … today.”

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