Like ‘Whitey’ Bulger and ‘The Departed’ - Real-Life Gangsters Are Gold for Filmmakers

Many top gangster films today rely on real mafia men in order to make their characters more believable and realistic, writes IrishCentral. Specifically, the films, “The Departed,” “Lord of War,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Public Enemies,” and “Goodfellas” based their protagonists on major racketeers throughout the 20th century. Here’s a description of men some of these films were based on. [Note: some clips include profanity; The Departed does so quite heavily.]

1. “The Departed”- James “Whitey” Bulger
Jack Nicholson plays the character of Frank Costello, who runs a mob in South Boston. According to, while an undercover cop is “assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate... a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the state police as an informer for the syndicate is rising to a position of power...” The mob that Frank Costello was running in the movie was based on Bulger's real-life gang, the Winter Hill Gang.

2. “Lord of War”- Viktor Bout
Nicolas Cage plays an illegal arms dealer loosley based the character of Yuri Orlov during the 1980’s; the film documents the mobster’s familial relationships as well as his business life. Orlov first began by selling guns to the mafia in his neighborhood, then gradually rose up in power to eventually “form a business partnership with an African warlord and his psychotic son,” according to Imdb. Currently, Viktor Bout, or “The Merchant of Death,” is awaiting trial on charges that he was set to arm a terrorist group. In “Lord of War,” Cage’s ruthless character arms all sides of the Lebanon war.