“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” Those are the opening words of The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese. These sentences are uttered by Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, the mob boss in Boston. And Costello has made his environment a product of himself: criminals pay him, cops try to nail him, and all the while he’s in control. That’s a Scorsese character: a father figure to some, a crazy man to others and remains an enigma to the audience even after the end. He’s one of the enigmas in this movie that does donuts (figuratively) and ends lightyears away from it’s starting point.
The Departed is about the State Police employing William Costigan Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio in an awesome role) to go undercover in Costello’s crew for Captain Charlie Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam (Mark Wahlberg in his Oscar nommed performance). At the same time, Costello plants a mole in the State Police through Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). The two moles obtain information and disinformation and they have to ultimately smoke the other mole out. Other hardcore supporting performances include Ray Winstone as Arnold French and Alec Baldwin as Captain George Ellerby. The story is adapted from the 2002 Cantonese movie Infernal Affairs and it has been adapted by William Monahan.
The story was an excellent one, with all the plot twists different and amazing (for example, who would’ve expected all the good guys dead?). William Monahan definitely knows Boston culture well enough to write a screenplay filled with Irish slang and the Irish mobs. As a whole, the screenplay has a punch to it. Most of the dialog is awesome: “The church once told me you could either be a cop or a criminal. But I say, when you’re faced with a loaded gun…what’s the difference?” or “Two pills??? You might as well give me a bottle of Scotch and handgun to blow my head off!” or “You called this number on a dead man’s phone.” That’s the power of this screenplay and it won an Oscar for the writing.
The Departed makes all the lead actors in this movie depart from good acting to magnificent acting. The best performances are Leo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson and the chemistry between them. Leo DiCaprio shows us the vulnerability, loneliness, and confusion of Billy Costigan which is amazing. Truly, this is Leo’s best performance so far, except for his portrayal of Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. Jack Nicholson, as always, shows us the craziness, pride and aggresiveness of Costello. Mark Wahlberg’s character, Dignam, always uses the f-word in a sentence, and it’s worth your time watching him insult everyone else. But Damon’s character, Sullivan, has a major role, but the performance itself is ordinary. Nothing special.
Right off the bat, Scorsese returns to form in the gangster genre. The style he employs is different from his past movies: its quick and slick and gritty. The editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is excellent, and sets the slick tone right in the beginning. The music complements the story, with “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” my personal favorite. Scorsese also uses a lot of symbolism: from the rat at the end, to the X-marks at the very beginning. If not for Scorsese, Monahan’s screenplay would have not been appreciated. Scorsese makes a great screenplay even better…that’s The Departed.