Yes, you read the title right.
I'll give you my reasons in a moments time. First off, I need to be clear—there are the genuine classics that will never be trumped. Jaws. The Godfather. Beetlejuice. But when it comes to The Departed, there are too many layers to ignore.
Sure you can watch it as your average Irish mob film, upping the antey with heavy hitting talent like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Whalberg, Jack Nicholson—the list goes on. Let's let that talent bundle sink in. That enough is the recipe for a good film, I don't care what it would have been about. Let's continue the talent with Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen—I mean, come on. With a cast like that, it's hard to ignore this film. Not to mention directed by the one and only Martin Scorsese. But I digress...
Warning: The following article may contain spoiler alerts.
Taking place in south Boston, this film follows two sides of cop life—the corrupt and the uncorrupted. A young Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) attempts his chance at becoming a state police officer, though his family was a part of the Irish mob. He's trying to not become a product of his environment and get away from his crummy family. However, after acing his police exam, he's questioned as to why he's trying to be a cop. Mark Wahlberg (Staff Sergeant Dignam) plays the role of a hard-ass detective in charge of an undercover operation, attempting to gather intelligence of the organized crime in the city. Instead of allowing Billy to continue to the state police, he offers him a position as one of his undercover agents to infiltrate the Irish mafia.
Now flip the coin.
Irish gangland boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) takes Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) under his wing at an early age. Colin also graduates the police academy. Due to his good family record (and probably a few string pulled) he becomes a state policeman and quickly rises in the ranks, gaining himself a position of Detective in the Special Investigations Unit. Being that, he is able to tip off Frank whenever the police decide to tail or monitor him. At the same time, anytime Frank 'gets rid' of someone, he is able to plant just enough evidence on his rival gang to exonerate himself—which, naturally, Colin can find and get a double thumbs up from his department.
During a planned sting operation by the special investigations unit, Colin finds out that there is an undercover agent in the midst of Franks circle. At the same time, as the sting fails, Billy realizes that Frank was tipped off by a rat in the investigation unit. And the hunt is on.
A good rat in a bad pack, and a bad rat in the good pack. And it just gets better from there. They do what they can to try and flush each other out, catch each other and expose each other, without getting killed themselves. This film is non-stop action, thrill and drama.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let's dig a little bit deeper.
During the film, it repeatedly shows the good life of Colin (the bad cop) in comparison to the torment that Billy (the good cop) goes through. The irony of it all is so compelling. While Billy does time in jail as part of his undercover mission, Colin is getting a large beautiful apartment with a view. While Billy's broken arm has its cast beaten off it by Frank, Colin is on a date in a French restaurant. While Colin gets promotions and a girlfriend, Billy witnesses murders and starts taking pain pills. And yet, Billy is working for the good cause, whereas Colin is feeding the evil. Where does the benefit and reward lay? It takes a strong willed individual to continue for the greater good.
There is a scene where Frank and his trusted side-kick "French" are sitting at the table, discussing whether or not they should be able to trust Billy. I'm not sure if Jack Nicholson decided to go off and do his own thing during that scene, but his singing with the flashes of the corpses he's caused, really gives off an eerie feeling and sets the mood perfectly. Directorial genius. Absolutely brilliant.
Speaking of Jack Nicholson. There is a scene where Frank is sitting at a table with Billy, questioning whether or not he was the rat. During that scene, Leonardo DiCaprio was meant to express fear and nervousness. In the first few takes, Jack felt that Leo didn't seem scared enough. So, during the take that is featured in the film, Jack brought a gun on set. Leo, not knowing how deeply Jack had set himself in the role of Frank, showed genuine, true fear when Frank puts the gun in front of Billy. What you see in the film is real. That, ladies and gentlemen, is directorial and actor's genius. Scorsese knows no bounds.
There was an article written by some crumbag in Rolling Stones magazine, stating that Scorsese could've made this film in his sleep. Not doubting that Scorsese is talented, but get real. There are so many infinite turns, comparison and contrasts, deceptions, undercovers with undercovers, dialogue, layers—he'd've lost a hell of a whole lot of sleep, trying to come up with this over night. I guess the author of that article didn't care to see past the surface.
There's an underlying love story where Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) first falls for the appearance of a stable and normal life with Colin. But then realizes the depth of true emotion with the first abrasive, but then vulnerable Billy. It's moving, that leaves me thinking... where's my Billy?!
Can I just say Leo's performance in this picture is unreal. One can truly feel the fear. You can sense the danger. You hold your breath when he does. When his anxiety grows, you get tense. Your heart goes out to him. To know that Billy, an amazingly smart individual who pulled himself out of the corruption surrounding his family, only to get his life thrown into disarray, going to jail to build reputation, witnessing murder after murder, feeling that at any minute he could be next for—for over a year—goes through all this just to serve his commonwealth and try and take down Frank. Who seems to never get turned in, no matter how big of a case they build. Only my to find out he would never get turned in, because he is in fact a protected informant for the FBI. So it's all for nothing anyway! And the elevator scene at the end... ugh... I don't want to talk about it.
This movie, if you ever take the time to watch it, deserves more craze than it ever got. Watch it twice. Three times. Explore the symbolism. Embrace the depth of deception. Focus on the details. Realize that this... is one of the best... movies of all-time!
I'll end this article with quotes that stick out in my mind:
(Very first line of the film) Frank: I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.
Sergeant Ellerby: "Cui bono? Who benefits?"
Colin: "Cui gives a shit. It's got a freakin bow on it."
Sergeant Ellerby: "I think you are a cop my son." (blesses him with a trinity finger wave)
Frank: "Have you ever thought about going back to school?"
Billy: "School? With all due respect Mr. Costello, school is out."
Frank: "Maybe one day you'll wake the fuck up."
Member of sting operations: "Who the fuck are you?"
Sergeant Dignam: "I'm the guy who does his fucking job. You must be the other guy."
Madolyn: "I have to say... your vulnerability is really freaking me out right now. Is it real?"
Billy: "I think so." (♥️)
Frank: "Do you wanna be me?"
Billy: "I probably could be you. Yea. Yea I know that much. But I don't wanna be you, Frank. I don't wanna be you."
Frank: "Heavy lies the crown."
Cui bono? We all did from this film.