Big-screen villains and real-life crooks

There’s a kind of disconnect every time we get to compare a big-screen villain to a real-life crook. Reading this morning’s news accounts about the capture of James “Whitey” Bulger, I was struck by this tidbit: that Bulger, 81, had served as the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character Frank Costello in “The Departed.”

Even in a Jack Nicholson film festival, the Costello character would stand out as truly scary. And so would Bulger, with a string of 21 murders to his alleged credit. The Boston mob boss had retired to Santa Monica and was sharing a third-floor apartment with a small arsenal of guns, a fortune in cash and a woman with expensive tastes in grooming. (In a plot twist worthy of Hollywood, it was the beauty that did him in. The FBI reportedly caught him by focusing on his companion’s use of beauty parlors and teeth-whitening services.)

Yet for all his bloody history, Bulger doesn’t look frightening – certainly not as scary as Nicholson. Give him a longer beard and he might make a good Santa. Whereas Nicholson … well, he looks like Nicholson. You wouldn’t cast him as Santa, but he does make a great crime boss: