Written by: William Monahan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone
Nobody likes a rat, both the animal and someone telling on the business of others. The hatred arises because people really hate dishonesty and being a rat essentially makes this a full-time job. With The Departed a game of who can avoid getting caught as a rat ensues on two different sides, as it unfolds into an aggressively entertaining story with an embarrassingly stacked cast.
From a young age, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) received guidance and care from local bigshot crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). With Colin graduating from the police academy, he utilizes his connections to rise fast and provides advantageous information to his surrogate father. This all occurs while Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) joins the force as an undercover cop to take down Costello from the inside.
The city of Boston runs through this film like no one could believe. If the accents did not give it away, then the music choice and optics of conversations would surely suffice in doing so. The different uses of land and landmarks make this a film a Bostonian can sit back and continually point out they know all of these locations. Even without having the knowledge, everything gets laid out in a fairly succinct manner to set the players and let the ultimate collision occur. The Departed centers on the story of two men with different social standings in their profession. Colin pretends to be a cop to curry favor for a crime lord, while Billy pretends to be a goon for said crime lord in order to inform the cops about the behavior and serve justice eventually. Watching their different journeys provides much of the entertainment, but the film also introduces the audience to the absurdly violent, racist, and crude underbelly of Boston.
The amount of pent up frustration and anger dwelling within the men in this film could light up a city because of the toxicity of their attitudes. Instead of speaking like adults, it all becomes a game of who can throw the toughest punch and who will take less crap from another person. As Costello mentions, it’s the way to get ahead in this world, as the film opens with him explaining the rough time the Irish had when they first got to this country and the methods he used to get to the top. Violence becomes the key for him, and it shows as he sits alone at the top and takes out anyone who comes remotely close to challenging him.
In a way, it speaks to the line of thinking of the people of Boston, who harbor these racist feelings. The film has no issue in displaying Costello’s racism, and the general notorious reputation this city has for the way people of color get treated. Billy points it out when jogging alongside one of the Black police recruits, where he insinuates that being Black in Boston does not spell out good news. Thankfully, the film does not back away from this inescapable characteristic of the type of people who would run a violent unit to this degree.
Building up the tension throughout makes The Departed such an entertaining film to watch because the audience knows the allegiances of every player in this game but not all of the characters necessarily know. No one in this story has all of the information and makes decisions based on what they know thus allowing the audience to be an omniscient bystander to all of the drastic measures taking place for these men not to lose the limited power they have. Even with the audience knowing the allegiances, the films ensure to throw in a couple of hefty surprises as well because the only ones really with all the knowledge are the filmmakers. The game of who can smoke out the other rat first has Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio face off and they both succeed in these roles.
Matt Damon fits right at home with the character of Sullivan as he got to whip out the old accent and portray a seemingly upstanding citizen and cop. From the outside, he did everything right, including having an immaculate record. He followed the right trajectory to detective exceptionally and looks to work in government without a gun in the future. A wonderful story considering where he came from, but he remains connected to Costello. Billy, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, on the other hand, had the opportunity for a better life but decided to put it all away for the chance to deliver justice on what Costello has done. Instead of living the potential luxury as Colin receives, he chooses to give up years of his life to work undercover and get things done as an informant. Their differences as characters heavily inform the narrative because it shows who has integrity and who continually gets rewarded for pretending to have it. Something people can certainly relate to, but with this position, it involves who dies, goes to jail, or walks free. While Damon captures the smarminess of his character, DiCaprio goes all-in on the pent up anger Billy has for his life circumstances to an almost unsettling degree. He took away his pretty boy haircut and buzzed it down to not let anything take away from the tough-guy exterior he wants to put on with Billy.
As strongly Boston as this film proved to be, it made it a surprise Martin Scorsese took on this film. Don’t get me wrong, a violent and foul-mouthed crime thriller lines right up in his interests, but as someone fixated on New York, taking something so unlike his area of expertise seemed like an oddball choice. Thankfully, he provides the authentic feel necessary for this story to be told and believable for all audiences. He utilizes the typical intensity he brings to all of his other films to continually build the tension. Famously, the film that finally won him Best Director and Best Picture, this film does not reach the heights of Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but it demonstrates how the legendary director can have some fun in a new city and a riveting story.
A non-stop expletive-laden crime extravaganza, The Departed promises to breeze through its hefty runtime and completes the pact with several jaw-dropping moments and turns to keep the audience on their toes. Such a fun experience overall, which also examines the racism, toxic masculinity, and corruption within a city known for its intellectualism. Some moments lack any sort of subtlety but when taking the big exhale at the end of the film, nothing else really matters.