People never want to give The Departed the credit it deserves. It's too easy to dismiss as Scorsese doing Scorsese, or just a gangster film. Scorsese himself has called it a B film, saying it was his tribute to the likes of Sam Fuller and Robert Aldrich.
At the core of these complaints is the fact that The Departed is just so entertaining (along with The Dark Knight it surely has to be one of the quickest 2 and a half hour+ films ever made). Something this fun to watch can't be good for you. Yet The Departed like any Scorsese is so full of detail that thorough study is rewarded.
The first thing we see is an outbreak of Scorsesian violence. For a director whose name is often synonymous with violent content people neglect to mention how ungainly and clumsy violence always appears in a Scorsese film. It's never a glamorous or graceful thing.
“I don’t want to be a product of My Environment. I want my Environment to be a product of me.”
We hear Frank Costello before we see him. With Nicholson's trademark dulcet purr filling the soundtrack over the images of chaos. Costello's environment is a product of himself. He's not merely a figure of greed or corruption the way Scorsese's other gangsters have been. Instead he is a literal Mephistophelean figure and in this opening scene we see him offering what's literally a counter Gospel. Costello is not a additive figure, he "Hasn't needed the money since he took Archies Milk money in the third grade." There is no joy in material goods for him. He is simply a figure of negation.
We can only imagine that he would look at such images of chaos and violence with immense satisfaction.
The Busing Riots are obscure enough to barely be considered a footnote in American history. Similar to The Draft Riots, another forgotten moment of racially motivated mass violence, that Scorsese used to climax Gangs Of New York. Judging by the American flag waved by some next generation Bill or Vallon, not much has changed between the two ugly outbursts of American anarchy.
“Years ago we had the church, which was just another way of saying we had each other.” More on this later.
It is not so much that Scorsese movies resemble real life as real life has the damnable habit of resembling a Scorsese movie.
"It's a funny thing. It'll put hate in your heart."
In an allusion to Hawk's Scarface, Scorsese places an X in the frame whenever someone is about to die. This is the one time that an X doesn't immediately result in Death, but it's placement at the beginning of the film is significant. Many missed the significance of the film's title, thanks to the relative antiquity of the term. This is Scorsese underlining it, The Departed is a film full of dead people, before the action even starts everyone is doomed.
And to underline things even further the first time we see him he's delivering a eulogy. “Twenty years after an Irishman could get a job we had the presidency. May he rest in peace.” Delivered with a puff of Satanic smoke drifting from his nostrils this has to be one of the juiciest lines Nicholson gets in the film.
Note too the way the smoke juxtaposes with the incense that appears in the church during Colin's visit there.
I love this POV shot. Costello enters into this poor bastard's shop like the force in Evil Dead.
Twenty five bucks once again the paltryness of the money. A great deal more in seventies dollars to be sure. But nothing like the wads his gangsters flash in Goodfellas, Casino, or even Mean Streets.
But Costello's not quite done. From the very beginning of the movie Nicholson plays him like a sexual threat as well as a physical one...
His gaze rests on the owner's young daughter. But note that Colin is caught in the same gaze as well. I've read some critics theorize that Costello is molesting Colin. While I don't think you can quite say it's in the text. There certainly is a lot to support it, including Colin's later sexual disfunction with his fiance and the fact that Costello is drawn as parallel to The Church (Also you know, the scene where Costello waves a giant dildo in his face at a porno theater. Subtle stuff like that.)
Costello starts talking, we get initial repulsion...
Plus this crucial insert of the impotent Father. Underlying sexuality as a punishing force...
And from repulsion to attraction.
Point made Costello turns on a new target for corruption.
Poor kid never had a chance.
There is perhaps no director better than Scorsese at capturing the seductive, spiritual corrupting pull of material wealth. I’ve already written about my issue with those who downplay this element with Goodfellas, but in The Departed the rewards are deliberately meager. The wages of sin are in this case so paltry as to almost be a sick joke (This doesn’t change with age either, at one point an exasperated DiCaprio tells Costello that he runs “a feudal system”), Colin Sullivan sells his soul for a sack or two of groceries, a handful of change and a couple of comic books.
There's a jumpcut here as if Scorsese wants to emphasize the supernatural speed with which Colin's fate is sealed.
Smoke with smoke. The Departed is an odd movie from Scorsese at this time. It follows almost immediately two of Scorsese's most Catholic movies. Gangs Of New York, where there is hardly a scene where Catholicism isn't the main subject and Bringing Out The Dead, which is Scorsese's most overtly religious film since The Last Temptation Of Christ.
The Departed on the other hand, with the exception of Martin Sheen ("What are we following Queenan around for? To Learn about The Good Catholic Life?") is a very cynical movie in terms of religion. Some of this might be explained by William Monahan, who tends to take a much darker view of religion then Scorsese. More of it can be explained by the film's Boston setting which was the flash point for the Priest scandals in America.
The Departed is a film about deep wounds and the deepest of all come from those we trust.
We're not even outside of the church when Costello, interrupts The Priest and begins his litany. "The Church wants you in your place. Stand, Kneel, Sit." Like Henry Hill what seduces Colin is the power of self determination in a world of working class humps. The terrible irony is that Colin is perhaps the Scorsese character with the least control over his fate.
"Nom Serviam" cements Costello's Satanic identification. Colin rightly identifies the passage as one of Joyce's. But forgets to add that it is taken from Joyce's Potrait Of An Artist As A Young Man. In which, Father Arnall tells Dedalus, that "Nom Serviam" is the personal motto of Satan.
Oh and to strengthen the allusion one more time here's a picture of Costello with his face framed with fire.
Scorsese has always had a skill with violence but rarely has he been so meticulous in its minutia. Note that muzzle flash hits and then the squib. Both split second images painstakingly composed.
"When you're facing a loaded gun. What's the difference?" Thus endeth the sermon. Draft Riots, or busing riots, Guinea's or Micks, Church or Streets, Cops or Criminals, Nicholson nihlistically denies the distinctions of all. Nothing can be quantified but self gratification, and if you can use those illusions to distract the suckers so much the better.
Who’s That Knocking At My Door
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
New York New York
The Last Waltz
The King Of Comedy
The Color Of Money
New York Stories
The Age Of Innocence
My Voyage To Italy
Bringing Out The Dead
The Blues: Feels Like Going Home
No Direction Home
Shine A Light
A Letter To Elia
Public Speaking (Pending DVD Release)
Living In The Material World (Pending DVD Release)