By Drake Vittitow
Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” is a film that asks if anybody can be trusted, whether it be cop or crook.
Instead of the regular setting of Las Vegas or New York, Boston is the stage where we witness Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan, meeting mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). After Sullivan enlists into the police academy and passes with flying colors, he starts operating as a mole within the Boston police for Costello.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, another smart police academy cadet who is assigned to spy on Costello’s gang. Both succeed in their assigned jobs, with Sullivan quickly becoming a sergeant in the police force and Costigan slipping into Costello’s inner circle.
Tensions rise because both men’s jobs depend on how quickly they can gain the approval of their boss. On top of that, both sides realize that there is a rat in their respective systems, which increases paranoia for both Costello and Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen).
The problem is, if you are a cop posing as a gangster, you have to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise, such as committing crimes. If you are a gangster posing as a cop, then you have to make decisions that could affect the bad guys, even though you are siding with them.
This double-sided storytelling is more similar than you think because both men seem broken with every high-pressure choice they have to make. They have to figure out who they are in environments they are not familiar with while avoiding the rising suspicions of their employers.
These two titular characters become entangled in a love triangle with Madolyn. Played by Vera Farminga, Madolyn is a police psychologist whose loyalty remains with her clients. She truly believes that what she does helps those in need. That is how she comes to meet Costigan, even though she is in a serious relationship with Sullivan.
The triangle is never revealed to the two moles, but the drama adds a personal layer of risk and danger to the already suicidal jobs that these men partake. It is not a typical relationship side story that half of my high school relationships were.
Surprisingly, this is the first time that Nicholson and Scorsese have collaborated. The combination is seamless, like a pair of old friends picking up where they left off after being away for many years.
Nicholson’s Costello steals the spotlight.
Instead of portraying a mob boss that is a hothead or is overzealous, Costello is a careful and calculating man. Much like his mole in the police system, Costello relies on Sullivan to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. The same applies to Costigan relaying information to Queenan.
As soon as you hear “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by The Dropkick Murphy’s, you will know that this is classic Scorsese with a modern twist. However, it might be Scorsese at his most cerebral.
At its base, “The Departed” is a story about the moral dilemmas that two fish out of water face. But once you peel back the layers, you soon realize that the flaws are not in the characters, but the systems they work in.
But, like Costello said, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”