Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Departed (2006)

Frank: “You do well in school?”
Colin: “Yeah.”
Frank: “Good. So did I. They call that a paradox.”

Title: The Departed
Genre: Crime Drama
Year: 2006
Rated: R

Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan
Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan
Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello
Mark Wahlberg as Sean Dignam
Plot: Two men, on opposite sides of the law, go undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish Mafia.

Tagline: Cops or criminals. When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

First Viewing: Theater, October 13, 2006.
Added to The List: Some time shortly there after…November?

Comments Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. If you skimmed down my list of favorites, there are some definite patterns: romances, period films, animation…but nothing that would lead you to believe I would ever like a movie like The Departed. So far in this Epic, Grand Movie Ranking Attempt, the closest thing to a “man movie” would be Son-In-Law. I’ll admit that I probably will never appreciate man movie elements as much as my male counterparts, or even some women, but believe me when I say, I fucking love this movie.

I seriously considered typing one sentence in the comments section of this blog: It’s fucking awesome. But then I decided my oh-so-many readers would be clamoring for the reason why a person who's favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast likes this testosterone driven mob movie. So here it is...

Let’s begin with the reason why I saw it in the first place: it was Oscar Season. As you may not know yet, I love the Oscars. I have been following it since 2004. So I knew my Academy Awards history. I knew that 5 of Martin Scorsese’s films had been nominated for Best Picture. And since a new one was coming out in the fall of 2006, one with all his traditional masculine, violent elements and a starstudded cast, I decided to see it. Plus, it had Leonardo DiCaprio, so even if it sucked, I could spend the two and half hours staring at him.

Indeed, I did stare at him, but only because I was in complete and utter awe of his acting ability. I always knew he was more than just “that pretty face from Titanic,” but until The Departed, I had nothing to point and at and snidely say, “See?” A friend of mine once said, “Leonardo DiCaprio out acts everyone in this film.” And he was absolutely right. Even though Leo is up against seasoned actors such as Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen, and even more contemporary peers like Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, he manages to hold his own and then some.

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors and this film is his best…so far. He plays Billy Costigan, a state trooper working undercover as one of Frank Costello’s many minions. And because he plays such a conflicted character, not knowing who he is and having to pretend to be someone he’s not, Leo has a lot on his plate. In fact, I only think Billy smiles about three times in the movie. Most of the time he looks like he’s either going to cry or kill somebody.


I don’t really want to get into the plot of The Departed. It’s very complex and would take me about an hour to sum up every important detail. So I’ll just leave you with my convenient one sentence plot summary at the top of the page. Besides if you haven’t seen it, my synopsis would hardly do it justice.

The acting is superb. I’m really surprised there weren’t more acting nominations, actually. The lone Oscar nod went to Mark Wahlberg who I thoroughly enjoyed as the foul mouthed Sgt. Dignam. I wanted him to win, but instead the Oscar went to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. Hey, at least he didn’t lose to this guy…

Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t discuss the main romantic plotline. By no means is it the most important part of the film, and I don’t mean to portray it as so. It’s not even my favorite. But since I’m better at nitpicking a love story, I'll start with what I know and then work my way to the more serious stuff.

Despite The Departed being a man movie through and through, there actually is a female character. One…but she’s there. Madolyn Madden is played by Vera Farmiga, an actress I haven’t seen in anything else. Her part in this grand picture is as an occupational psychiatrist who Colin meets in an elevator and begins dating. Their relationship becomes more and more serious throughout the film.

At first, it seems as if Madolyn will be the “dumb girlfriend” who later discovers her boyfriend is a two-faced liar and corrupt detective. But the plot thickens when Billy is forced to see her due to his fake “probation.” (All part of the undercover gig.) After this scene, Madolyn begins casually seeing Billy, despite dating Colin and moving in with him. Just before Madolyn makes the big move, Billy comes over to her house and they have sex.

Billy’s relationship with Madolyn is very important. After all, the only people he has contact with is his Undercover Unit commanders and Frank’s group. All of his family is dead and those who aren’t, are also a part of the mafia. Madolyn is his only friend throughout the entire ordeal. And even she leaves him, knowing she must be loyal to Colin.

Towards the end of the movie, Madolyn tells Colin that she’s pregnant. Personally, I like to believe the kid is Billy’s. But there’s no way of knowing for sure. Take these clues for example:

1. Colin had impotency issues. It’s quite possible that Madolyn and him weren’t even having sex for long stretches of time.
2. When Billy brings Madolyn the envelope, she tries to tell him something. He tells her to think about whatever she has to say and if she still wants to tell him in two weeks, to call him. Hmmm…

I realize stuff like this doesn’t seem relevant to the movie. But it is. In most, if not all of Martin Scorsese’s films, masculinity is often explored. What makes a man? From a biological standpoint, a man’s purpose is to fertilize an egg. And for that to happen, one needs to have an erection and ejaculate, to get scientifically graphic. This proves to be impossible (at times) for Colin. So is Martin Scorsese saying that he’s not really a man?

Fatherhood is definitely at the heart of The Departed. On one side we have Detective Queenen (Martin Sheen), the commander of the Undercover Unit. He acts as an ideal father figure for Billy and Dignam, by being a hardworking, honest, respectable man. There’s also George Ellerby, (Alec Baldwin) the commander of Special Investigations Unit, who acts as an equally positive father figure for Colin.

But then on the other side, there’s Frank Costello, who portrays the negative end of the spectrum for both Billy and Colin. In all respects, he’s the villain of the story. It’s he who takes Colin under his wing as a boy and basically corrupts him.

Billy, coincidentally, serves as another surrogate son for Costello. But since he is at a less impressionable age than Colin was, Costello never causes any permanent damage to Billy. This is one of the reasons I love this movie. The good guys never turn to the dark side...with the exception of a minor character. It must be noted that Billy had a strong father figure growing up, which probably adds to it.

This whole theme comes to a fever pitch at the end of the film. One of Costello’s operations has gone terribly awry. Colin has figured out that Costello is an FBI informant and asks about his own neck. The dialogue goes like this:

Colin: “Do they know about me?” Frank: “I know about you, Collie. You know I’d never give you up. You’re like a—” Colin: “What? Like a son? To you? Is that what this is about? All that murdering and fucking, and no sons.”

At this point, Frank fires his gun at Colin and misses. In turn, Colin shoots and kills Frank. Obviously, Costello’s inability to have children is a touchy subject, one that probably isn’t brought up often. And if it is, no one probably lives long enough to spread the truth. Fatherhood is important most of the men in this film. The fact that Costello, a man who spends most of his free time fucking supermodels, can't have children is a sign that, at least in this film, that evil=sterility. This is why I think Billy is the father of Madolyn's baby.

The Departed was my choice for Best Picture in the 2006 Oscar race. It became the first movie for which Martin Scorsese won an Academy Award. And rightly so. I’ve read in several articles that Martin Scorsese’s Oscar was an award for his body of work instead of just The Departed. Many believe he should have won earlier in 1980 or 1990 for Raging Bull or Goodfellas, respectively. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen either of them. (I know, shame on me). And maybe if I had, I would feel differently. To me, The Departed is one of the greatest films of all time and deserved to be rewarded.

As you can see, The Departed is a very complex film with many facets. I’m sure someone could write a thesis on this bitch. Looking over all I have written, it seems like I have. Since it’s nearly midnight, and since I’ve been working on this blog for three days, I will end it now with no clever or interesting conclusion.

Favorite Screencap

Don't judge me.

P.S. I like how sweaty Alec Baldwin gets in this scene.

Next Film: The Brave Little Toaster

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