Where Everyone Departs but the Love Interest

Released in 2006, The Departed is regarded as one of Scorsese’s best films. It’s been nearly a decade since it’s release and the film still retains all the excitement, intrigue, secrecy, that it had 9 years ago. I had seen bits and pieces of the film before but never sat down to watch it from beginning to end until this evening and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Roger Ebert and I have not agreed on a movie except for this one. That which he likes I tend to think are too audience-pandering, and those that I enjoy he dislikes because they are typically silly comedies.  He gives the film a 4/4 and I’ll stick to a more standard numerical scale and give it a 10/10.

Let’s talk about the cast. Matt Damon plays the “perfect” achieving Massachusetts State Sergeant Colin Sullivan (plain-clothes right after graduation) who has worked hard to get to where he is. Then again, he’s taken care of by Frank Costello who is played by Jack Nicholson. He’s perfectly creepy, perverted, and twisted. My opinion is that he has some of the best lines in the film, “Eat your clams cocksuckers”, “Don’t get your balls in an uproar Colly”, and the first line in the entire film, “I don’t want to be a product of my environment I want my environment to be a product of ME.” There is also Leonardo DiCaprio, who I’ve never really been a fan of – mostly because it feels like he’s trying too hard to win an Oscar (maybe I should give him more credit for choosing difficult roles). He was excellent as the State Policeman turned “criminal” in order to successfully infiltrate Costello’s crew while working as an undercover agent. Vera Farmiga plays Sullivan’s love interest initially as Madolyn, a therapist, she sees Costigan as part of his prison release. The transition to his love interest begins.

With three intertwined plot lines how are you not supposed to be intrigued the entire time? The Departed unfolds like a mystery. There are a lot of details that the audience is given, we follow all three primary characters and know how they relate to each other. What we don’t know is the most important, the juiciest information is that which we don’t know: how does it all come together at the end? Well, since it’s been out for a while now I have no qualms about spoiling it: a blood bath! I’ve always thought the best films are the ones that don’t end happily because that’s false reality. Instead there is this dramatic, back-stabbing (or face-shooting, as it is in this film), mass reveal of information on who is working for who and who knows who is involved in what, etc. It’s crazy but it’s great.

I’d like to get into more depth as I review films and become more familiar with the process but for now I will only touch the surface of the technical aspects. In later reviews I’ll work on delving into the meaning of certain filmic elements whether that’s thematic, plot-related, or something else entirely.

A lot of movie magic exists as magic because, while you are watching it all in front of your eyes, a lot of it is hidden, it’s subtle. There are well-thought-out reasons for each action and you can see it when examined. Towards the beginning of the film when Dignam and Ellerby are in a conference room detailing the suspects they want to capture (Costello and crew) there is a horizontal camera arc to Dignam, then to Ellerby to show a power dynamic. They don’t want to be equal – each trying to out-power the other.

The use of music is done extremely well. The recurring use of I’m Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys, an Irish band that originated in Massachusetts is perfect. It has the proper tone and elements to the area. The way the music in general stops on a dime and changes style with no hesitation, just like Costello’s moods and reactions, only enhances his power in the film. The lighting was not heavily artistic which lent the film to a more “realist” perspective but there is one scene where Costello is backlit by a very red light. DRAMA! INTRIGUE! DEATH!

The film ends beautifully with Dignam shooting Sullivan in his own apartment with the view of the Massachusett’s State House outside his window and a rat walking across the balcony ledge. It mirrors the drawing that Costello is seen sketching as he quizzes Costigan about a rat. It also hammers home the idea that Sullivan had grand ambitions, he wanted to be a lawyer, he bought the apartment for the view of the State building, and yet what brought him down in the end? Dignam’s bullet, sure, but ultimately Sullivan himself.

And finally: my last favorite quote from The Departed, “What Freud said about the Irish is: We’re the only people who are impervious to psychoanalysis.” If you Google it you’ll discover that a number of people have done research and Freud didn’t actually say it. But as an individual with Irish heritage, I still dig it. If you, like me, haven’t seen the film then I highly recommend you do.