“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s say you have no idea and leave it at that, okay? No idea. Zip. None. If you had an idea of what we do, we would not be good at what we do, now would we? We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?” asks Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam.
There was a lot of anticipation for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. It gathered an impressive cast and marked Scorsese’s return to the gangster film. The trailers looked good, and it just seemed that it couldn’t go wrong. Oh, how right I was. I was way more right than I could’ve imagined. I loved this film so much that I went to see it three times on the big screen (and this was back when I still had to pay for movie tickets, something that I hardly do now).
2006’s The Departed follows Billy Costigan, a Boston State Trooper who goes undercover to infiltrate the gang of known criminal Francis Costello, who has placed his own mole, Colin Sullivan, in the Boston State Police. The film goes back and forth like a tango as each side eventually discovers that each has a mole in their midst and further complications arise that endanger both the cops and the criminals. William Monahan’s Oscar-winning screenplay deals with the themes of duality and nature vs. nurture as they play out viciously in the city of Boston. It also touches on the role of family vs. surrogate family. I liked how Costigan and Sullivan were essentially two sides of the same coin, and how Costello, Captain Queenan, and Captain Ellerby served as interesting foils as surrogate fathers (Costello and Queenan for Costigan, and Costello and Ellerby for Sullivan).
Scorsese gathered an impressive cast for this film: Leonardo DiCaprio (as Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (as Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (as Francis Costello), Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (as Sean Dignam), Martin Sheen (as Captain Oliver Queenan), Alec Baldwin (as Captain George Ellerby), Ray Winstone (as Arnold French), Vera Farmiga (as Madolyn Madden), David O’Hara (as Fitzy), Anthony Anderson (as Trooper Brown), James Badge Dale (as Trooper Barrigan), and Kevin Corrigan (as Sean Costigan). All offer strong performances, even the supporting turns (Nicholson really chews up the scenery as Costello; such a deliciously wicked turn). What’s surprising for a film this brutal is how funny the dialogue is (Nicholson and Wahlberg have some of the funniest lines in the film).
Thelma Schoonmaker’s Oscar-winning editing was phenomenal, juggling all the cross-cutting storylines while maintaining an excellent pace (like a tango). Composer Howard Shore takes the tango concept one step further and writes a terrific score centered on a tango-like theme (I was surprised that it worked as well as it did). Scorsese also uses a number of classic songs (some more prominently than others), including “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, “Comfortably Numb” by Roger Waters, Van Morrison, and the Band, and the more recent “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys (which became popular due to its association with this film).
Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography was top-notch, and it was especially more expressive for the night scenes. Kristi Zea’s production design was terrific, utilizing many New York locations to stand in for Boston (quite a task to accomplish). I also enjoyed Scorsese’s homages to Howard Hawks’ 1932 classic Scarface (the use of X’s in the background foreshadowed characters’ deaths). The Departed won Scorsese a long overdue Best Director Oscar (which he would’ve won even if he had won in the past for Taxi Driver or Raging Bull). This Best Picture Oscar winner (which deservedly won) ranks among Scorsese’s best (shame on those who’ve referred to it as a “lesser Scorsese film”), and is a certified classic in the crime genre.