Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #208: The Departed

The Departed will go down in history as the movie that finally gave Martin Scorsese an Academy Award for best director. Many could argue it was a career award as there are plenty of other movies he made that could have earned him the prize decades earlier. Goodfellas and Raging Bull come to mind, but The Departed easily earns its place among them. Scorsese had tackled stories about organized crime before, however this one has a particular Irish feel not to mention one hell of a story about criminals, cops, and the choices they make.

The film was released in the fall of 2006, right in time for awards season. A smart move since it ended winning the Oscar for best picture. That fall I was spending my first semester at the University of Sherbrooke and couldn’t wait to see it after seeing the superbly edited trailer featuring not just The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter (of course), but also I’m Shipping Up to Boston by The Dropkick Murphys and a cover of Comfortably Numb by Van Morrison. Like Quentin Tarantino, Scorsese has a great taste in music. I don’t have a DVD or a Blu-Ray of The Departed, but a few months after it came out got the soundtrack. One of these days I ought to remedy that.

Based on the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, The Departed essentially deals with two liars. Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio) is a Boston cop whose family has ties to organized crime. He makes it clear that he is not his family, but Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and the foul-mouthed Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) think this will give him the perfect cover to infiltrate the organization of Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

Unbeknownst to them, but known to the audience right from the beginning, Costello has a mole of his own in the police organization having taken sergeant Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) under his wing when he was growing up in his neighbourhood. Whenever the cops are closing on one of Costello’s deals, Sullivan gives him a heads up and of course Costigan notices and gives his superiors a heads up.

It can’t be a coincidence Costigan and Sullivan share similar sounding names, look alike, and even sleep with the same woman (Vera Farmiga). Whether they like it or not, they are mirror images of each other. For the people they are spying for they are infiltrators, but for the people they are spying on they are rats. Morally speaking you should be rooting for the cop, but as Nicholson puts it during a brilliant opening monologue about cops and criminals, when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Speaking of Nicholson, one thing I can’t understand is why his performance did not earn him at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. As Costello he manages to be both frightening and darkly funny, whether while trying to determine whether or not Costigan is the rat, or while meeting Sullivan at a porn cinema while brandishing a dildo. He is certainly a dangerous man who takes pleasure in his work executing his competition with his right-hand man Mr. French (Ray Winstone) and in his downtime likes to relax by having sex with prostitutes after throwing cocaine over them like it was snow. It’s a mesmerizing performance, but somehow Wahlberg gets the nomination?   


Award discrepancies aside, The Departed should be remembered for top-notch performances from everyone involved, Scorsese’s stellar camera work as usual, and a tense script by William Monahan that piles on the surprises until the very end. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…