PG Cooper’s Movie of the Month: The Departed (2006)

Posted: November 30, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Movie of the Month, PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

I was thinking about what my next “Movie of the Month” should be and while looking at past choices, I realized I had yet to review a Martin Scorsese film. I was actually disappointed in myself; Scorsese is one of my favourite filmmakers, if not my absolute favourite, and I had yet to tackle one of his films. I realized I needed to remedy this so I’ve opted to look at the film that won him his Best Director Oscar, The Departed.

The Departed is a crime-thriller set on the streets of Boston, Massachusetts. The film follows two men who are both working undercover. The first is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man who grew up with criminal connections but who’s goal was to be a cop. Because of his background, his superiors Queenan and Dignam (Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg) decide he’s the perfect person to go undercover in a mob operation run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). On the flip side of the coin is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a man who grew up as a bright boy and succeeded in school. But at a young age, Frank handpicked Colin to be his golden child and to eventually infiltrate the Boston Police Department while secretly working for Costello. So to summarize, you have a cop pretending to be a criminal, a criminal pretending to be a cop, a lot of lies, and a bunch of people trying to bring each other down.

William Monahan’s script weaves a tremendous amount of characters and stories. It’s a film that deals with lies, deception, and double crosses. It keeps the viewer in the dark and the story is constantly engaging. One never knows for sure where the story is going and there are a ton of surprises. Monahan also gives the characters a lot of dimensions and multiple aspects to their lives. Credit is also to owed to Monahan for his wonderful dialogue which is crisp at at points very funny.

With so much going on, the film could have easily devolved into a complete mess. This is where the brilliant touch of Martin Scorsese comes in. Scorsese’s excellent storytelling abilities ensure the film never becomes lost in its own details. Even in its most complicated moments, The Departed is constantly accessible. Scorsese infuses the film with a tangible energy which keeps the pace moving briskly throughout the two and a half hour runtime. Long time Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the film’s pace as well. Scorsese’s ear for rocking soundtracks is tuned finely. In addition to classics from The Rolling Stones and Roger Walters, The Departed also makes great use of The Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Out to Boston”.

Scorsese also assembles a top notch cast. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are both fantastic as the two rats trying to survive. DiCaprio does a great job slipping into hysteria and you really feel for him. He has a real edge to him but one can tell deep down he is, or at least was, a good person. Matt Damon gives his role a sniveling cowardice while masking it with superficial charm. I also like how both characters are shown to have anger issues, but Billy seems to explode easier while Colin allows it to build before he begins to let his anger slip. Mark Wahlberg gives one of his best performances as the aggressive and blunt Sgt. Dignam, and fine work is also delivered by pros like Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen. Jack Nicholson creates one of his many awesome villains with the menacing Frank Costello. It’s also important to mention how cool it is to see Jack Nicholson in a Martin Scorsese film.

One common criticism of The Departed is that the film is not very deep. Personally I couldn’t disagree more. First off, the plot alone is highly complicated, and if one doesn’t pay attention they will likely be lost. Beyond that, I also think there is a lot of thematic depth to be found. The key theme of the film is identity, and what truly defines someone’s identity. Why is someone who they are? What makes them who they are? The film also looks at how one’s background can have a more important role in shaping one’s future than their own morals. Another theme touched upon involves where the line is in combating our enemies and the price victory often has. The thing is, these themes aren’t dwelled on, but just because Scorsese choices not to focus solely on the themes does not mean they’re not there.

It blows my mind that people criticize The Departed winning the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. I love criticizing Academy decisions as much as the next guy, but The Departed winning is not a decision that warrants such criticism. First off, it’s not very often that a cop/crime thriller win the most prestigious award in film, and it’s always nice to see unconventional choices win. Second, after years of being passed over we finally got to see Scorsese win his Oscar, which was very deserved. People complain and they call it a pity Oscar, but I don’t really think that’s the case. Which brings me to me third reason, because The Departed is a genuinely great film. The third point is the most important and overshadows everything else. Whether it was an unconventional choice or not, a pity Oscar or not, what really matters is the high quality of the film.

Now is that to say I’ve given The Departed Best Picture? I don’t know, 2006 was a really strong year with tons of other great films like Letters From Iwo JimaChildren of Men, and Babel. I don’t know if The Departed is better than those films, but it’s certainly in the same category and worthy of being called Best Picture. At the end of the day though, the whole Oscar debate is unimportant when compared to the film itself, and what a film it is. The Departed is that rare film which functions as accessible entertainment while still remaining a very high degree of artistic integrity, as well as containing a really dark edge. It’s also one of Scorsese’s strongest films and ranks in my top five of his work. Great film.

Rating: A+

  1. vinnieh says:

    Excellent post man, makes me want to rewatch this one.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    I admit I’m not a fan of THE DEPARTED (though I am of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, the Honk Kong film it was remade from), but I did enjoy your passion for the film, Daniel. Scorsese should have won director and picture honors previous to this, though. It wasn’t my pick for ’06 — ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ back then, and ‘Children of Men’ today, would be mine. Still, great to read your thoughts about the film. Well done.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I love Letters From Iwo Jima and Children of Men. I’d have been just as satisfied to see either of those win Best Picture. And I certainly agree that Scorsese should have been honoured earlier.

  3. ckckred says:

    Even though I think The Departed is a great movie, I’ve always viewed that the Oscars gave it Best Picture as an apology for snubbing Martin Scorsese over the years. I probably would have picked Letters from Iwo Jima over it but I don’t mind seeing it win. Nice review.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      ” I’ve always viewed that the Oscars gave it Best Picture as an apology for snubbing Martin Scorsese over the years.”

      Possibly, but like you said, the film is great. And I love Letters from Iwo Jima, btw.

  4. I dont know that the criticism surrounding “The Departed” winning Best Picture and Best Director is so much levied at the movie winning in that year (Children of Men wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture – a crime in and of itself, but that’s not The Departed’s fault – and the other films were… vulnerable, let’s say). I think its more a case of people wishing that that wasn’t the movie Scorsese won for. Kind of like Pacino and Scent of a Woman. Excellent flick, excellent performance, but people resent it because theyd rather have seen him win for say, Godfather II.

    Same thing applies here I think.

    Nice write up Pg!

  5. Hunter says:

    Man! I had no idea Nicholson was in this one! (slacker me, I know)
    I had been meaning to check this out for awhile, because I like DiCapprio, but now that I’m more informed it’s definitely getting a higher priority. Plus if there’s any identity analysis to be done, count me in man! Must see this film.

  6. brikhaus says:

    Nice review. This is a great remake. Nicholson hams it up a bit too much for my taste, but otherwise I really enjoyed this one. Comparatively, I think infernal Affairs 1 and 2 edge out The Departed.

  7. moviebuff801 says:

    Excellent film, excellent review. Personally, this IS my Top Film of ’06, even though I love Letters From Iwo Jima, Children of Men and United 93 (to name a few) a lot. For me, placing it at the top of my ’06 list has a lot to do with the film’s rewatchability factor — I’ve rewatched this more than the other films I mentioned from the year. All are great films, but in the end, it just came down to that.

  8. CMrok93 says:

    A great movie, but one that is probably best-reviewed/best-watched for the first viewing because that’s when everything surprises you a whole lot more, whereas the second time around is just checking out little things here and there. Good review PG.

  9. Susu says:

    Scorcese is at his best and truly deserves Oscar for this film. Also notable are the performances of Matt Damon (such a great “bad-guy;” he really must do stuff like this more often), Leo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson (as always), and Mark Wahlberg (best since Rockstar). However, some in the theater with me who had seen Infernal Affairs did say that Departed did not live up to the original.

  10. Susu says:

    While “Letters from Iwo Jima” is truly a great achievement is several ways, the script is powerful, the production is superb, all the technical departments almost perfected their jobs, there is some really good acting as well, and Eastwood’s touch as a director is very visible, and its beautiful, it flaws almost flawlessly in this regard.

    Well, what’s wrong then? It simply lacks what makes it a really interesting movie. “Letters” starts with a present day scene of excavators digging up remains of the war in Iwo Jima, and finding letters in a cave that were written by Japanese soldiers and officers during the war on Iwo Jima island, it then travels back in time to WWII and story revolves around those whom their letters were found during the dawn of the American invasion on that island. Slowly, the movie loses its grip over its audience, becoming something closer to an audio book, and survival becomes a repetitive process!!!

    Everyone seem to be praising the film for being told from the other side, and its true you don’t see that many American film makers do that, and although the film didn’t just speak Japanese, it lived and breathed Japanese, it couldn’t escape the limited framework of Hollywood, this is very visible through the “good” characters, all the good, honest or lovable Japanese characters were either American sympathizers who lived in the US for a while and kept saying how a great nation the US is, or are Japanese people that do not care for the Imperial system and would not mind handing over the island to their rival Americans. On the other hand, all Japanese loyalists were mean American haters. Even the resolution of the strict Imperial soldiers was that the Americans were not as evil as they were told. But still, everyone was very fond of the fact that the movie was told completely from a Japanese point of view. However, just because Eastwood is an American film maker making a Japanese-point-of-view movie, doesn’t make the film any better than what it really is, the film’s ratings seem to be getting higher just because there is an American film maker behind it and I disagree, it is what it is regardless who the people behind it were.

    The film was also highly praised as a companion film to “Flags”, and while together they form a great duo, on its own, “Letters” does not achieve greatness.

    Why did Eastwood and Spielberg decide to make “Letters from Iwo Jima” this calm instead of making an adrenaline-pumping film? My guess is that they did not care about the average audience and the commercial success as much as they did care for the story’s integrity.

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