Many top gangster films today rely on real mafia men in order to make their characters more believable and realistic. 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 the men they based their films on.
1. “The Departed”- James “Whitey” Bulger
Jack Nicholson plays the character of Frank Costello, who runs a mob in South Boston. According to Imdb, while an undercover cop is “assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate....a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the sate 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 really based that of Bulger which he ran at the peak of his career, called 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.
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3. “Donnie Brasco”- Joseph “Donnie Brasco”
In the movie starring Johnny Depp (as Donnie Brasco) and Al Pacino, Joe Pistone, using the alias Donnie Brasco, is an FBI agent who infiltrates the New York mob. The movie documents his gradual involvement in the faction led by Sonny Black, and how it affected his real life as an agent. After “Operation Donnie Brasco,” the real Joe Pistone is considered to be an FBI legend for working undercover.
4. “Public Enemies”- John Dillinger
James Russo stars as Walter Dietrich in this film, which details the last few years of John Dillinger’s life (1903-1934). Dillinger was a notorious bank robber in 1930’s Chicago; the movie tells the tale of his personal life with Billie Frechette and his crime life, especially once FBI agent Melvin Purvis gets involved. Dillinger was formally indicted with murder of a police officer, but never charged; he did, however, rob close to 30 banks and police stations and escape from jail twice. He was eventually killed while trying to flee from police officers at the age of 31.
5. “Goodfellas”- Henry Hill
“Goodfellas” stars Robert de Nero as James “Jimmy” Conway, Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, and Joe Pesci as Tommy de Vito. Although dissuaded by his family, Henry Hill is enticed by the mafia life and begins a life in the mafia. While his friends Conway and Pesci rise up in the mafia hierarchy by killing left and right, Hill, too, gets caught up deeper and deeper in the crime scene. His conscience, however, is eventually deeply affected once he realizes how much he’s threatened the safety of his family and those around him.