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An Artist of Trademark:A Look at Scorsese's: The Departed

Updated on July 20, 2014

Put on your best Boston accent...

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How f*cked-up are you, Martin?

From the first frame to the last, and from people who are film buffs to those with a mere pedestrian interest, Martin Scorsese films can be spotted miles away from the screen. Which isn’t to say that he’s a predictable man; every project is unique to the next, providing it has all of his base ingredients: A broth of the criminal underworld, peppered with big-city metropolitan culture, an even mixture of fantasy from breakthrough cinematography with the reality of well written characters and story, and then garnish it off this stew with grit. Rest assured to me as well as anyone lucky enough to see films like Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, or the film of my subject, The Departed- he never makes the same cinematic dish twice.


And no, I've not seen it.

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Here's the skinny, Chief.

Though made recently in 2006, The Departed was a pure Scorsese film by him directing and sticking to what he knows best: the dynamics in a story between the villainous crooks and the hero cops- but in The Departed, that dynamic is switched. Our hero Billy Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a troublesome graduate of the Boston Police Academy, and on the other side is rookie rat-cop to the mob, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Billy is planted by his superiors to keep an eye the most vile mob boss of South Boston, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and meanwhile Frank has Colin planted as a mole within the police department. The result is a neo-noir of criss crosses mixed with double crosses and hairpin twists in story placed evenly through 151 minutes. To the knowledge and surprise of a few to many (including me) The Departed’s characters are actually based on real Boston mob criminals, and the film is a remake of the Hong Kong crime thriller “Infernal Affairs” (2002).


Characters welcomed

And thank goodness there’s have reality to lean on for these characters, because they would seem so outrageous otherwise. Billy Costigan is a renaissance (young) man who is seeking to not only be his own man, but be a good man- having grown up in the “southie” projects as a teenage reject and young criminal. When The Departed begins with Billy, his family’s crime history is thrown in his face, leading his superior officers to assign him the job he never wanted: go to jail for 6 months for a fake assault charge, and leave the cell acting as a thug for hire willing to work for Frank. The plan works, and Billy finds himself becoming the very crook he wanted to put away in jail and what society always assumed or judged he would be.

Most look at this character growth (or death) as gritty realism in their fiction as many cops work in the criminal underworld as undercover thugs, doing drugs, working for mob bosses, beating up or sometimes killing others- all for the sake of building a case. Perhaps these days I’ve become desensitised to this idea that our hero must do horrible things to defeat a more horrible person, and also, anyone that has seen Goodfellas, Casino, or other Scorsese films know that he love to direct characters that could be “dirty rats”. In the days prior to films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, lead characters were a lot different.

Looking at the hero of Luke in Cool Hand Luke in contrast to Billy Costigan can almost be a case of comparing a hero versus a villain. Sure, Luke is a sweetheart of a guy who is looked up to by his peers and praised for being the rebel who plays by his own rules- yet is called to fall in line. Billy Costigan is more methodical and in control than that as he strives to play by the rules of the force- yet is constantly called to play the part of a thug. This could be the sign of higher demands on film culture to give us more than just the usual cookie cutter protagonist. Prior to Cool Hand Luke, people had more lofty views of heroes, but when the rebellious spirit of the 1960’s rolled in on it’s van full of film equipment and idealism, there was a new wave of the “flawed” hero, whether he was good-natured like Luke, or a rule breaker like Dirty Hairy.

JAMES 'WHITEY' BULGER

Jack Nicholson's Character reference .
Jack Nicholson's Character reference . | Source

Let's hurt a man's feelings, shall we?

What great film did Leonardo DiCaprio deserve the Oscar most in (but didn't get it)?

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'Comic'al Noir

Scorsese draws much of his shooting styles and delivery from classic noir films from the 30’s and adds his own style in terms of shooting action and violence. The Departed takes from the noir-film stereotypes of including narration. Goodfellas features Ray Liotta narrating the whole film from start to finish, but The Departed only has an intro by Frank the mob boss placed over documented footage from Boston race-riots in the 1970s. Regardless, it’s clear from those few minutes that I am watching the story from a bad guy’s point of view- and it’s later shown in that most of the film follows the strategic lies and manipulations of Colin Sullivan- Frank’s “man on the inside”. Another trick that Scorsese employs shortly after Frank’s narration when we see a close-up shot of a young Colin that- in one frame- turns into older, academy-graduate Colin; it’s a clever trick that not only gives a passage of time, but also connects the character to his older self. Scorsese must be a comic book fan.

Another trademark of Scorsese is what he will do to surprise me. Billy finally nabs Colin for his betrayal of both the force and his mob partner, and takes him on an elevator to the ground floor. As soon as the doors open- BAM! Billy’s head sprays on the wall behind him, as one of Colin’s close friends squeezes off one round. I jumped out of my chair upon first seeing this, but when I saw it a second time, it’s very easy to spot and becomes less subtle each time I see it. When I also consider that most of the characters that were framed with set-piece X’s near them, it can be seen then as an inspired easter egg for film buffs to know that these characters were “marked for death”. Props go out to Scorsese for drawing inspiration from the original 1939 Scarface, visually paying a novel homage.

I'm seeing a pattern here:

I will be 100% honest when I point out one thing about myself: I hated Leo in the 90s. I don't think Titanic was a great start to what would later go from a heart throb on the cover of every teenie-bopper magazine to what Scorsese created in him.
I will be 100% honest when I point out one thing about myself: I hated Leo in the 90s. I don't think Titanic was a great start to what would later go from a heart throb on the cover of every teenie-bopper magazine to what Scorsese created in him.

Rockstar Filmmaker

Another trademark of Scorsese is what he will do to surprise me. Billy finally nabs Colin for his betrayal of both the force and his mob partner, and takes him on an elevator to the ground floor. As soon as the doors open- BAM! Billy’s head sprays on the wall behind him, as one of Colin’s close friends squeezes off one round. I jumped out of my chair upon first seeing this, but when I saw it a second time, it’s very easy to spot and becomes less subtle each time I see it. When I also consider that most of the characters that were framed with set-piece X’s near them, it can be seen then as an inspired easter egg for film buffs to know that these characters were “marked for death”. Props go out to Scorsese for drawing inspiration from the original 1939 Scarface, visually paying a novel homage.


Scorsese is, what I like to call him, a rockstar filmmaker. His soundtracks are known for being his signature trademark that is rivaled only by Tarantino (because, where do you think HE got it from?). The Departed does have an original score, but you’ll never remember that as much as you will recall his use of The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” (for the seemingly 100th time) at the films beginning. Also notable is his use of classic rock, rather than opting for more modern tracks of today’s rock and pop musicians- thank goodness. Also part of Scorsese's style is the violence, which The Departed has in spades. Scenes like the splatter-tastic ending of Colin getting exactly what is coming to him in the end- a bullet to the head that looks like the popping of a balloon filled with cherry koolaid- there are few directors before him that would attempt to show us that level of gore, and in the hands of lesser talents or poorer scripts would look like snuff film garbage. This level of violence might make us cringe, but Scorsese can also make it deviantly fun. In another scene prior to the death of Colin, there are two police vs gangsters shootouts that create the most tension and the most adrenaline by upping the number of blood-filled squibs and blank rounds in the guns. In reality, a shootout isn’t so dramatic or long, but for a visionary director like Scorsese, it’s all good fun.

It was probably the best job ever for a nerd.

Blockbuster Catagory- genre: Scorsese

Scorsese has since become a genre in himself, as most of his films follow the same formulas, but that isn’t to say he’s a typecast director. Sure, his films revolve around mafia crime, drugs, bigotry, and the high cost of cheating to get the American Dream. And yet, his most recent outing Hugo has shown me his capability to capture the fantastic and whimsical, not just the gritty and dark, competently delivering on both.

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    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 3 years ago from Louisiana, USA

      I love this film so much. The acting and direction of this film were terrific. I love DiCaprio in this film. I was never a fan of his older movies, but Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, Inception and Wolf of Wall street were great performances. He is a gifted actor with loads of talent. And Scorsese is a marvelous director.