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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. 


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