2006 - Warner Bros.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by William Monahan
Leonardo DiCaprio Billy Costigan
Matt Damon Sgt Colin Sullivan
Jack Nicholson Frank Costello
Martin Sheen Capt. Oliver Queenan
Mark Wahlberg Sgt Sean Dignam
Alec Baldwin Capt. George Ellerby
Vera Farmiga Dr Madolyn Madden
Ray Winstone Arnold 'Frenchie' French
James Badge Dale Trooper Barrigan
David O'Hara Fitzy
Mark Rolston Timothy Delahunt
Anthony Anderson Trooper Brown
Kevin Corrigan Sean Costigan
Robert Wahlberg Frank Lazio
Kristen Dalton Gwen
“When I was your age, they would say, we become cops or criminals” Frank Costello, an Irish mob boss on the rise, says to a teenage Colin Sullivan “Today, what I'm saying to you is this: When you are facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?” Martin Scorsese then devotes the 151 minutes of run time to answering this question.
All grown up, Colin Sullivan becomes an outstanding Massachusetts State Trooper. He’s got an immaculate service record and has risen through the ranks quicker than every one of his peers. Four years in and he’s made Detective Sergeant, assigned to the Special Investigation Unit; part of the elite team tasked with bringing down Boston public enemy number one – Frank Costello.
Billy Costigan on the other hand is a promising trainee at the 'Statie' academy. However his troubled past catches up with him and he never gets to be a trooper. Instead he’s sent to prison on assault and battery charges. On his release he hooks up with his drug dealer cousin and eventually attracts the attention of Boston public enemy number one – Frank Costello.
Billy Costigan though is not a State Police drop out. He’s been handpicked for a deep cover operation to infiltrate Costello’s inner circle. To ensure his cover story holds up his expulsion from the police is real, his criminal record is real and only two people know of his real identity: Captain Queenan; and Staff Sergeant Dignam – let’s hope nothing happens to them.
Sullivan and Costigan both grew up in South Boston - Southie– the wrong side of the tracks. Costigan’s parents later divorced and he lived with his mother in an upper middle class area of Boston during the week and in the Southie projects at the weekend with his father. Although his father stayed clear of the rackets his uncles were part of the same underworld inhabited by Frank Costello. Costigan joined the State Police Academy primarily to prove that he didn't have to be a product of the environment he grew up in.
Sullivan on the other hand came to the attention of Costello at an early age. As a teenager he was a good Irish Catholic and altar boy, bookish and doing well in school - clearly smart but still naive. Putting a protective arm around him, the Irish mobster imparts his own doctrine garnered not from the church, but from the street, moulding the young boy just the way he wants him and sponsors his education and entry into the State Police Academy. Sullivan is Costello’s man on the inside; the ultimate mole.
It is worth noting that although both characters are infiltrating the opposing sides in a similar manner, it is not of their own choosing. Both have been manipulated into these positions by authority figures they trust and both diligent young men undertake their assignments to the best of their abilities even when it puts their lives in danger and their own sense of self begins to unravel.
The film is based on the stunningly successful (and brilliantly titled) 2002 Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. However, when the movie opens with voice over narration from Jack Nicolson set against The Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter you are left in no doubt that this a Martin Scorsese picture.
One of the effects of starring in a Scorsese movie is that actors know they’re playing in the big league and they bring their A-games accordingly and in this respect The Departed is no different; well all accept for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is a force of nature and for better or worse he won’t be tamed – we’ll come back to Jack later.
The plot of Infernal Affairs remains relatively intact but transplanting the tale to Boston gives the movie a fresh dimension. Naturally the Triad mob boss becomes Boston-Irish and consequently takes on many aspects of the real life Whitey Bulger, the infamous crime boss of the Puritan City who spent many years on the FBI most wanted list when he went on the lam for 16 years despite also being an FBI informant himself for a long time. The City on the Charles River is a departure to that of the City on the Hudson for Scorsese and he brings it out wherever possible: be it in the music; in the back drops; or the accents. The ensemble cast have, to varying degrees, mastered the specifics of the Irish infused Bostonian accent; Matt Damon is obviously local to the Massachusetts area and Mark Walberg, who Boston is proud to call one of its own, revels in the opportunity to chew up and spit out every scene in his natural tongue.
As one of the most reliable actors around, Matt Damon turns in a superb performance as Colin Sullivan, Costello’s man on the inside. Not only is Sullivan an outstanding state trooper, but he enjoys it too. He enjoys busting down doors and making arrests. Alongside all the testosterone and aggression, he sees himself as the smartest one in the room; Damon’s overconfidence and smugness in fact make you want to punch him in the face. His colleagues all fall for his Mr Nice Guy act, but knowing the truth we see him as smarmy, manipulative and two-faced; we’re obviously not supposed to like him, he’s not the hero of this piece, he’s not even the anti-hero, he’s the bad guy. In fact the only character to take a dislike to him is Staff Sergeant Dignam.
It’s also not just the cop aspect of his assignment that Sullivan likes; there are other perks too. For a kid from Southie, he’s granted the benefit of social mobility. He’s moved from the projects of South Boston to the affluent Beacon Hill neighbourhood. He’s dating a Harvard graduate psychologist and even harbours aspirations of a political career; forgetting sometimes exactly why he is where he is and who put him there. Sullivan is reinventing himself all of the time. In the opening montages of him at the police academy we see him during a game of rugby verbally abusing the opponents from the Fire Fighters team just to further engrain and affirm himself into his new identity as a cop “go save a kitten in a tree, you fucking homos”.
Damon’s rendering of Sullivan’s complex character is richly layered; his confidence is portrayed as cocky masking his real insecurities. He is decisively cunning, manipulating events to ensure Costello remains one step ahead of the law, yet casts no shadow of suspicion upon himself. This provides its own stresses though. He has a deep rooted fear of being caught – there’s the obvious threat on his life if he becomes a problem for Costello instead of an asset, but perhaps Sullivan is more fearful of losing the middle class life he’s built for himself. The stress is manifested in failures in the bedroom department and he begins to let his cocksure mask drop more and more as the threat of getting caught becomes greater.
Billy Costigan doesn’t get to wear an ice cool mask. Unlike Sullivan and his Beacon Hill apartment with views of the State House there is nothing about his assignment to like and he would give it up in a heartbeat if he could – and he tries. Everyday he’s putting his life on the line, risking exposure, witnessing and partaking in unspeakable crimes. Unlike Donnie Brasco who finds an unlikely friendship in Lefty Ruggerio, Costigan is all alone. DiCaprio turned in without doubt the best performance of his career up to this point in 2006 - he’s slowly falling apart at the seams as his fake persona becomes his full-time life and he becomes ever more isolated from reality. He finds some solace in his court-ordered shrink Dr Madolyn Madden, Sullivan’s girlfriend (yeah I know, what’s the chances?), who is drawn to his insecurity “your vulnerability is really freaking me out right now.”
"The only one that can do what I do is me. Lot of people had to die
for me to be me. You wanna be me?"
- Frank Costello
Why not check out other gangster flicks
Costello’s mirror is Captain Queenan. As an actor Martin Sheen has built considerable respect, especially as his long stint in the West Wing has left him, in many people’s eyes as a presidential figure and this is played up in the role of Captain Queenan. Juxtapositioned with Mark Walberg’s role as the fast-talking, foul-mouthed Dignam, Queenan talks slowly and reassures with every word he utters. Queenan is a father-figure to Costigan which only serves to heighten his loneliness when he dies.
With no-one left who knows Billy Costigan is a cop or evidence to prove it, his only identity is as a criminal. Similarly when Sullivan kills Costello and the rest of the crew are wiped out, there’s equally no-one who knows that he is really a criminal and not a cop? Costello posed the question right at the beginning of the piece “cops or criminals… when you are facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?” Similarly, when recruiting Costigan to the undercover operation Queenan asks him “You want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop?”
Sullivan, as we’ve come to expect, finds himself in a similar situation to Costigan - all alone with no-one knowing his true identity. When an attempt by the Elite Unit, manipulated by Sullivan, to apprehend Costello and his crew ends in gunfire, Costello’s crew is wiped out. Sullivan corners Costello and the downfall of the Irish mob boss ends up being his over confidence. He’s has his rats in the state police, he’s a protected informant for the FBI and so he thinks he’s bullet proof. What he does not see coming is that Sullivan harbours ambitions above being Costello’s puppet, so when he gets the opportunity to put a bullet in him Sullivan doesn’t hesitate. In one mighty takedown Sullivan frees himself of the shackles to Costello and also becomes the legend that takes down Boston public enemy number one.
Jack Nicolson as Frank Costello in parts is wonderful as the hands-on crime boss, not willing to put a Michael Corleone style buffer between himself and the dirty work “Jeez, she fell funny” he nonchalantly comments about the dead body of a woman he personally assassinates. However, he also gets the tone oh-so-wrong in large parts of the movie, waving around a large rubber cock or doing impressions of a rat – it’s also surprising that Scorsese allowed him to get away it. As a crime boss Costello is as smart and ruthless as they come. He plays the (very) long con by identifying Sullivan and others to be his future rats and his power and influence seems to usurp that of the Italians from Providence – Nicolson however does not always act accordingly.
Perhaps the biggest stretch is the fact that they’re both sleeping with the same girl. However, with the crafting of William Monahan’s script, Scorsese’s storytelling and Vera Farmiga’s performance, within the artist framework of the film, I can believe it enough. Dr Madolyn Madden is a psychiatrist working for the state. To Sullivan she represents another part of his new identity and having a smart, educated woman as a partner fits nicely with his new upper middle-class lifestyle. To Costigan she is initially simply a prescriber of medication to help deal with the living nightmare that is his undercover assignment, but she slowly evolves into the last remaining thread from which his damaged psyche dangles. In what is probably DiCaprio’s greatest scene he hands Madolyn an envelope with instructions “Open this if I'm dead or if I call you and tell you to open it.” This scene more than any other lays bare Costigan’s terrifying isolation from reality and the harrowing prospect he faces of never again being himself.
Costigan is left all alone when the inevitable happens; he loses Queenan and Dignam. Sullivan lures Queenan into a trap in an attempt to identity his undercover operative, but it only leads to Queenan leaving a nice red mess on the pavement having been thrown from a tower block by Costello’s goons. In Queenan’s absence, Sgt Dignam is forced to reveal the identities of his undercovers or else hand in his papers - he chooses the latter and resigns.
In possession of Queenan’s cell phone Sullivan dials the last number suspecting that it belongs to the undercover. Agitated, exhausted and frightened Costigan is sat in his apartment when his phone rings and sees that it is Queenan’s number. The movie cuts between Sullivan waiting for it to be answered and Costigan staring at the ringing phone. You watch this scene while holding your breathe. Costigan eventually picks up the phone but does not speak. Sullivan on the end also remains silent; they both know, but don’t know that the respective double agents are on the line together. Costigan hangs up… shit that was tense. Pacing back and forth and contemplating the next move, Costigan rings back “You called this number on a dead guy's phone. Who are you?” Smooth as ever Sullivan explains he taken over from Queenen and convinces him to 'come in'.
This tense gangster flick slips into a higher gear when the two antipodal double agents set about trying to find one another. Costello demands that Sullivan finds out who the rat is in his crew and Queenan asks Costigan to do whatever he can to find the spy in his unit. Both however are motivated not by the orders of their respective bosses, but by the threat of exposure of their true identities. In a gripping passage in the movie Costigan follows Costello to his rendezvous, at a porno theatre, with his rat, but can’t get a good look at Sullivan. Leaving the theatre Sullivan realises he’s being followed and pulls a knife, but stabs an innocent guy in the gut by mistake. The pair come tantalisingly close to unmasking each other, but end up no further forward.
The fact that the plot revolves around two similar but reverse scenarios lends itself quite wonderfully to a world of mirrors, doppelgangers and coincidence. It stretches the already elastic properties of reality past reasonable acceptance, but in any other art form, be it literature or poetry the repeated and extended themes would be applauded. So while other Scorsese pictures like Goodfellas and Casino are grounded in actual events (with some indulgence) The Departed is complete fantasy and I welcome the artistic flourishes.
Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor I’ve grown up with, having seen him as a young actor as Toby Wolff alongside Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life (1993) and through movies like Titanic and The Beach where his boyish good looks were his biggest asset. However, The Departed is the first feature in which a role has demanded the level of intensity he has on display throughout the movie. Those boyish good looks have eventually matured, but are still played down here as they serve him no purpose. William Monahan’s script is replete with clever insults and scene stealing one-liners for the likes of Nicholson, Baldwin and particularly Walberg, but there is no punchy dialogue for DiCaprio. He has to rely on grit and raw emotion; digging down deep to make himself the hero and shine above a constellation of charismatic stars: Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, Ray Winston, Mark Walberg and Alec Baldwin.
Indulging the principle themes of parallel plotting Captain Queenan suspects Frank Costello has planted a rat in his Special Elite Unit and at the same time Costello becomes wise to the fact that his crew has its own vermin infestation. Investigating your own colleagues is not everybody’s cup of tea and will not make you popular amongst your peers but Sullivan can’t believe his luck when he, of all people is assigned to the task “with everybody looking up their own ass and you looking for yourself, I put my money on nobody finding nothin” Costello smugly surmises when Sullivan informs him of his latest promotion.
Martin Scorsese won a long overdue Academy Award for Best Director with this picture; so does this make it his greatest work? Just in simple terms of his Gangster movies I love The Departed, but I still rank it below Goodfellas and Casino. Scorsese definitely has more to say in this flick; there’s a social commentary running through the movie which is a metaphor for America in the post 9/11 World – but fuck that shit - The Departed is first and foremost an outstanding cops vs robbers gangster flick and I think we should leave it at that. Some people will prefer Infernal Affairs to The Departed, but in a lot of cases it comes down to which you saw first. There’s certainly more soul to the Hong Kong original, but what is clear is that Infernal Affairs is heavily influenced by the American gangster movies that came before it. So in a very neat world of symmetry and mirrors it is fitting that we have an American remake of a huge Eastern cinematic success, which in itself is very reflective of Western filmmakers like Scorsese.
Oh and best not to mention the final moments of the movie which has an actual rat, rather unnecessarily on the balcony of Sullivan’s 7th floor apartment shot against the gold dome of the Massachusetts State House. Come on Marty, you're better than that.
It’s somewhat fitting that it’s Dignam in the end who puts Sullivan down. Mark Walberg is brilliant as the hot headed, foul mouthed Staff Sergeant. Make no mistake Sean Dignam is a grade A asshole, he gives shit to everyone including Captain Ellery (a superior officer), a vicious mob boss and also to his most important undercover operative – at least he’s a consistent asshole. “If you had an idea about what we do we would not be good at what we do. We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?” But the fact that the shit he gives is so elaborate, over-the-top and delivered so well that he’s the most memorable character in the gangster flick. What is important thought is that he’s steadfastly loyal to his boss Captain Queenan and to his undercover operatives; he resigns before giving them up and exposing them to further danger.
In a department full of fast talkers Alec Baldwin’s Captain Ellerby tops the lot. He can have a whole conversation without needing a response. His main role though is to give Sullivan the backing he requires to be a good cop. But my singular reason for loving Ellerby is his view of marriage “Marriage is an important part of getting ahead. You don't want anyone thinking you're a homo. Married guy seems stable. People look at a wedding ring and think: someone can stand the son of a bitch. Ladies see the wedding ring and know immediately that you must have some cash and that your cock works.” When I get around to creating Gangster Flick merchandise, this is defiantly going on a t-shirt and other cool shit I can hawk.
The dizzying end to the movie is perhaps what gives it its title as many people depart; none though as shocking and sudden as our leading man. Still with his Walther PPK to Sullivan's head, Costigan drags him into the lift, but when the doors open on the ground floor – bang – Costigan is shot in the head. Not since John Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction has a leading character being wiped out so suddenly and unceremoniously. The gunman as it turns out is State Trooper Barrigan; unknown to Sullivan, Barrigan was another of Costello’s moles. Almost immediately another fellow state trooper Brown sees the bloodied mess of Costigan on the ground, but before he has an opportunity to process the information Barrigan puts a bullet in his head too. Sullivan, ruthless as ever then puts one final bullet in a very surprised Barrigan, leaving no-one alive to question his story.
His story, when Sullivan gives his statement, true to form is very twisted and self-serving. He fingers Barrigan as the sole rat in the department and at the same time identifies Costigan as the undercover and hails him a hero, even recommending him for the Medal of Merit. Sullivan reaffirms his supercop image by identifying the rat and also his Mr Nice Guy act in proposing Costigan for a medal.
The sting in the tail for Sullivan is Costigan’s plan B. On learning of Costigan’s death Madolyn respected his wishes and opened the envelope passing on the information he has on Sullivan to Sgt Dignam as requested. Dignam, in revenge for Sullivan’s role in the death of Queenan, for being a rat-fuck and for being an all-round dickhead catches him off guard. Sullivan returns to his apartment, thinking all is well, but finds Sgt Sean Dignam standing, dressed in a crime scene Tyvek suit and booties with a suppressed Beretta 92FS pointed at his head. Sullivan for a moment thinks about protesting, but ultimately accepts what is coming. Dignam makes himself the hero by pulling the trigger and putting a bullet in his head.
Scorsese attempts to answer these questions in the final showdown. Costigan lures Sullivan to the same roof top from which Queenan went over and draws down on Sullivan with his Walther PPK. He attempts to arrest him – a citizen’s arrest will have to do as he’ll not register as a cop on any database – Sullivan the dirty rat that he is deleted his profile. Sullivan taunts him “Only one of us is a cop, here, Bill. Nobody knows who you are.” When Costigan threatens to shoot him, Sullivan dares him “Shoot a cop, Einstein. See what happens.” - Costigan’s response – “What would happen is the bullet would go right through your fuckin' head.” Perhaps there is no difference when you are facing a loaded gun – all heads tend react the same when they meet a high velocity projectile expelled from a firearm – which is Costello’s point. Whether we choose to be cop or criminal – good or evil - we all die the same.
However Queenan’s question is the more insightful. Sullivan to the whole world appears to be a cop, a pretty damn good one too; he even arrests bad guys. Whereas Costigan has never arrested anyone in his life - everyone knows he’s a bad penny and no one was surprised to see him hook up with Costello. However, even when the chips are down Costigan knows right from wrong and tries to bring Sullivan in. Sullivan on the other hand lies cheats and murders to protect his cop veneer. The badge he carries has nothing to do with protect or serve, other than protecting his own secret and serving his own selfish interests.
Most Notable Gangster Moment:
The roof top scene in which Costigan contronted Sullivan and attempted to arrest him at gun point was the highlight of the movie. For the first time both characters were able to be completely honest about who they were and what they were doing. This scene then rolled into the death scene carnage for Costigan, Brown and Barrigan who were all shot in incomprehensible quick succession.
Body Count: 23
1 & 2. Costello executed and man and woman on the beach
3. Captain Ellerby showed a photo of Jackie Costigan’s dead body during a briefing
4. Billy Costigan’s mother died in hospital of cancer
5. Captain Ellerby showed a photo of Myles Kennefick dead body in a dumpster
6 & 7. Two ‘spilled guineas’ from Providence – murdered on Costello's orders
8. During a flashback Frenchie strangled his wife
9. Frenchie used a soda bottle as a suppressor when he shot Brian seated at his dinner table
10. Sullivan mistakingly stabbed a guy in the gut believing it to be Queenan's rat
11. Costello's goons (probably Fitzy and Delehunt) threw Cpt. Queenan off a roof
12. Fitzy was shot during a stand off with state troopers and later died on the sofa
13. Timothy Delahunt was shot (in the head) by the SWAT team
14-17. Costello’s FNGs (Fucking New Guys) were all shot by the SWAT team
18. Frenchie was trapped in a burning car surrounded by SWAT and so shot himself
19. Frank Costello was shot by Sgt Sullivan
20. Billy Costigan was shot (in the head) by State Trooper Barrigan
21. State Trooper Brown was shot (in the head) by State Trooper Barrigan
22. State Trooper Barrigan was shot (in the head) by Sgt Sullivan
23. Sgt Sullivan was shot (in the head) by Sgt Dignam
+ Costello's waves around a severed hand in a plastic bag - but it was not made clear whether its owner was deceased.or not.
SIG-Sauer P226 – Standard-issue for the Massachusetts State Police and used by Sullivan, Barrigan and Brown
Sgt Dignam uses a suppressed Beretta 92FS to kill Sgt Sullivan
Costello's personal weapon is a Beretta 84 "Cheetah". We see him waving it around threateningly infront of Costigan, but we never see him use it
Cositgan's weapon is a Walther PPK. He uses it to hold Sullivan at gunpoint but never uses it. Barrigan however does use it to kill Brown and then Sullivan uses it to kill Barrigan.
Costello executes a man and women on the beach using a Smith & Wesson Model 19 Snub-Nose
delivered at a rate of 1.70 fucks per min (movie length 151 minutes - 2hrs 31 mins)
Best examples of Sgt Dignum using the F-bomb to invent new words:
2. "WeII, la-di-fucking-da";
3. "Sigmund fucking Freud";
and then Sgt Sullivan gets in on the action
C-bomb cluster drop:
“If you had an idea about what we do we would not be good at what we do. We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?” - Staff Sergeant Sean Dignum
1994 Buick Roadmaster – Costello's car, but mainly driven by Frenchie. Frenchie crashed it twice during the SWAT take down and it was engulfed in flames
A 1997 Chevrolet Express was used by Costello’s goons as they arrive at 344 Wash to intercept Queenan and his mole
Captain Queenan and Sgt Dignam use a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria to meet with Cosatigan.
Note: There are a plethora of Crown Vics in The Departed all used by the Massachusetts State Police.
Written by Bada Bing