Leonardo Di Caprio and Matt Damon star in this crime thriller, playing the exact opposite of one another despite having begun their careers from the same position – Di Caprio an undercover cop and Matt Damon a state officer working as the mole for a crime boss. The two plotlines following each character is deftly woven together, with both men used as chess pieces in a conflict far bigger than themselves while forced to lie about their true identities. This intense thriller also features the likes Of Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga and Mark Wahlberg as we are taken on this brilliant journey of twists and turns along the way.
The story follows two protagonists (or antagonists, depending on how you look at it), Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, the groomed protege of the violent and merciless crime boss, Frank Costello, played with an evil panache by Jack Nicholson. Sullivan is planted in the Massachusetts State Police as Costello’s mole, while the troubled, angry Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio), who comes from a family of criminals and is the perfect undercover cop for the police, his superiors Queenan (Martin Sheen) and the trash talking yet thoroughly enjoyable Dignam, played by Mark Wahlberg.
As Costigan is put in a pressure cooker of a situation as he is planted in Costello’s crew while trying to fend off Costello’s suspicions of a mole, Sullivan is trying to keep his own cover in the State Police while they search for the mole in their own division. Both men also find themselves falling for the same woman, police psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, played by Vera Farmiga, which only further complicates things as both Queehan and Costello become aware there is a mole among them.
When Costigan finds Costello is an FBI informant, he becomes all the more determined to bring him down, as he’d forced to dodge while Sullivan is forced to implicate Queenan to save his own skin. Every character knows they could be killed off at any moment, one wrong move and it could very well ruin their entire operation.
The screenplay, which was written by William Monahan, won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Director, which stands as a testament to how well-respected Scorsese is in the business. The movie addresses themes of identity and loyalties, when we see Di Caprio cracking under the pressure of maintaining his cover as a mole, while Damon’s confidant informer begins to question the man he’s been so loyal to since he was a snub-nosed little boy in the beginning.
None of the guys including Dicaprio’s Costigan are actually good guys; all exuding a morally grey outlook to life by the actions they commit. The opening line of the movie which had Nicholson’s character state that he wanted his environment to be a product of himself gave us a good idea of what we were in for. People being brought up in the world of crime whereas those who seek to reduce crime themselves being the perpetrators as well sent a great message of this ongoing vicious cycle of betrayal for money and greed.
Characters and actors
The actors in The Departed are an impressive cast and all of them put in a good performance. Jack Nicholson is certainly having fun as the slimy, misogynistic Frank Costello, who rules the underground with an iron fist and keeps severed body parts in plastic bags for the purpose of reminding everyone who they are dealing with. His presence sets up a constant feeling of uneasiness in every scene he is in, a school bully all grown up.
Matt Damon also brings a convincing charming veneer over an increasingly conflicted man who was groomed from a young age and is now beginning to want independence from the man who behaves like he owns him. Leonardo Di Caprio’s Billy Costigan is unstable, foul-mouthed and always seems to be on the verge of tears or violent rage.
Vera Farmiga is a lot more unconvincing as a police psychiatrist and her Boston accent is a bit all over the place, but it is not so distracting it takes you out of the experience. Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal as Sergeant Dignam provides a bit of unexpected comic relief, as every scene he is in devolves in either a verbal torrent of abuse or an outright fistfight (which is also a source of catharsis for the audience). All these beautifully depicted roles ultimately fit in to the cutthroat world that Scorcese created; each actor fulfilling their roles wholeheartedly.
Music and cinematography
The music in the movie is sparsely used but does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension, especially during the intense chase scenes scattered throughout the film. The violence and scheming are pitted against the backdrop of Boston, with ordinary neighborhoods and urban life contrasting with the violent underbelly of the city. There is one especially tense scene where Sullivan goes to stab the man tailing him, only to accidentally kill an innocent Chinese deliveryman.
There is a grim, gritty feel to the movie despite the bright sunshine present throughout much of it, which adds to the overall mood and tone of the story, but the color palette allows it to stand out from other crime thrillers of its ilk.
The Departed is not for everyone, with its excessive violence, casual racism and a lack of minorities or women playing significant, interesting roles, but for fans of Martin Scorsese, or any of the star-studded cast, this is definitely another of their repertoire you must watch at least once. The action sequences, excellent score and cinematography come together to tell a story full of backstabbing, bluffing and Leonardo Di Caprio smashing a man’s head in with a shot glass. With yet another Oscar win for best film; Scorcese must be thinking that making great moves is like a walk in the park.