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Martin Scorsese’s The Departed Movie Analysis

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Gangster and cop movies have seen a good amount of releases since The Godfather first hit the theatres in 1972 and the topic has therefore been rendered a cliché in cinema. This is however not the case with The Departed, although it takes the same approach. It is true that Martin Scorsese never disappoints and it is due to his unmatched talent that has seen him rise through the ranks to become one of the best film directors of all time. Following closely in the footsteps of his other classics (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull) is The Departed, released in 2006. Unlike his other classics though, this film won four out of five awards it was nominated in and became the first movie to give Scorsese an award. The director teamed up with a group of “All-Star” actors to showcase his wizardry in a cliché topic that seemed to have lost much of its impact longtime ago.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Vera Farmiga, The Departed is an adaptation of the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs (2002) by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. It involves two cops leading double lives to safeguard their superiors’ interests. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) had been introduced as a child into the mob family by an Irish-American mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). As a result, Sullivan is completely indebted to Costello, whom he considers a father figure. He is therefore planted by Costello to infiltrate the Massachusetts State Police as a mole. He graduates from the police academy and is hired as a detective in the Special Investigation Unit.

The protagonist of the movie however is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is forced to abandon the idea of ever being a normal cop after he fails to graduate from the academy. But, this is part of the plan to get him into Costello’s crime syndicate. Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) select Costigan, because he has family ties to mob organizations. And therefore to make him have some form of “street cred”, Costigan does time on a faux criminal charge. Each man is able to infiltrate the organization that he is passionately fighting against.

Therefore, the movie revolves around the two infiltrators trying to stay abreast in a life of hypocrisy. While Sullivan adopts his character well and even gets elevated at work, Costigan finds it hard being a criminal and is forced to do criminal acts that he is not comfortable doing to look the part. He has a serious mental breakdown from this life and as a result, he seeks psychiatric help from Madolyn (Vera Farmiga). Both Sullivan and Costigan work tirelessly to expose each other’s identity, as it is a matter of life or death. The irony of the movie is that most major characters are leading double lives. Even Doctor Madolyn is secretly having an affair with Costigan, but moves in with Sullivan. We realize later that there several informants both in the police (Trooper Barrigan- played by James Badge Dale) and in the crime organization.

The Departed film analysis shows that Martin Scorsese conveys several themes in this thrilling drama. Personal identity is probably the most obvious theme. There is an identity crisis between the two infiltrators. Costigan has no other option, but to become bad in order to win the trust of Costello. However, this self-adopted alter ego has no chance of eclipsing his good guy persona. He therefore struggles to suppress his real self and has grown totally paranoid, because he knows sooner or later his true character will come to light. Furthermore, the life of crime was eating through his soul. He is desperate to reveal the mole, so that he can quit the Irish mob. Sullivan also leads a double life. He is a trained killer and infiltrator and his darting eyes and sheepish smiles do not help his quest of being good. Sergeant Dignam sees through his gullible lies and is the one who ends Sullivan’s life.

Another theme is ambition. Of all the characters, Sullivan is the most ambitious. Maybe it is due to his deprived childhood that was salvaged by a mob boss, that he works tirelessly and mischievously to get what he never got as a child. To him power comes first. We can clearly see that he has his eye on the top seat through the window of his apartment, where the golden dome of the Massachusetts’ statehouse is within his view. He has dedicated his intelligence and cunning nature towards this cause, which saw him rise quickly to higher ranks in the police force.

Costigan is also very ambitious. His ties to the Irish mob through his father and uncle have made him quite the opposite of what we would expect. He hates the crime life and has joined the police force to fight it in his crime-ravaged hometown. He decides to go undercover in the Irish mob despite all the obvious risks. He decides to become a criminal to become the perfect cop, a great example of the lengths people will go to attain their dreams. Ironically, he loathes the very cops that he is striving to become. He declares at one instance that “there is no one full of shit than cops.”

There is also the theme of family relationships, in this case father-son relationship takes the center stage. Family relationships from childhood impact how a person turns out in adulthood. It is true that the fruit does not fall far from the tree. While Costigan does not exhibit his father’s criminal past, it is evident that he has that psychopathic element to him that he has cleverly suppressed. He seamlessly enters this criminal character that he easily convinces Costello that he is about that life.
As much he does not want to accept it, the seeds of anarchy were already planted in him by his father, uncle and the rough Southern side of Boston. It is due to this reason that he is handpicked before graduating by Captain Queenan and Staff Sergeant Dignam to infiltrate the criminal organization. The father-son relationship is also highlighted by Sullivan and Costello. After the mob boss adopts Sullivan as his son, he grooms him to become exactly like him- an opportunist killer and manipulator, who will do anything to gain power and wealth.

Another major theme is betrayal. It seems like most characters have all their loyalty invested in themselves. Nothing matters most to them apart from their own survival and gratification. Sullivan betrays the office that he is serving by being an informant of the mob boss. He swore to abide by the rules of the police force and protect the lives of every American citizen. This is far from what he strives to do. He breaks every rule possible in order to survive. He has no regards for the intimate relationships in his life. He hides his true identity from his friends and most importantly, from Madolyn who seeks emotional satisfaction from Costigan.

Another instance of betrayal occurs when Sullivan learns that Costello is actually an FBI informant, which prompts him to shoot Costello. Sullivan had pledged all his loyalty to the man he considered his father. He became a cop and lived a double life for him. He even called him “dad” on the phone. That shows how much Costello meant to him and then he finds out that the man he trusted most on this earth was working for the enemy. This is undoubtedly the highlight of betrayal in the movie. Costello even tried to shoot him, but unfortunately the monster he had created proved to be too fast for him.

All the actors brought their A games on this movie and it is the reason it won Best Director, Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon held their own, it was Jack Nicholson who stole the show with his convincing portrayal of the Irish mob boss. Mark Wahlberg was also great and had this sense of humor that oozed naturally from him. Although he lost the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role to Little Miss Sunshine, he was by every sense terrific. Unfortunately, he fell short to Alan Arkin brilliant portrayal of a foul mouthed Edwin Hoover, who was kicked out of his retirement home for sniffing heroin.


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