Departe, The (2006): Scorsese on his Film

“The Departed,” the gritty crime drama from the brilliant director Martin Scorsese, is set in South Boston, where the Massachusetts State police Department is waging an all-out war to take down the city’s cop organized crime ring. The key is to end the reign of powerful mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) from the inside.

The story centers on the complicated, complex, and morally ambiguous lives of two copes: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Smart and unabashedly ambitious, Colin appears to be on the fast track of Massachusetts State Police Department’s Elite Special Investigations Unit, whose prime target is powerful mob boss Costello.

In contrast, Billy Costigan is street-smart, tough, and suffers from a violent temper that has cost him his badge and eventually lands him back on the rough streets of South Boston, where he is recruited into Costello’s ranks.

But this being a noir policierand a quintessential Scorsese movieneither man is what he seems to be. As they work at cross-purposes, Colin and Billy are plunged into a dangerous game of cat and mouse in which the stakes are high, really high.

Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operation he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the gangsters and the police that have a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin find themselves in constant danger of being caught and exposed to the enemy. Thus, each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself.

Inspired by Hong Kong

The story of “The Departed” is based on the 2002 crime thriller out of Hong Kong called “Infernal Affairs,” which achieved great success in Asia before released (briefly) in the U.S. in 2004.

An American version was soon in the works, with William Monahan assigned to do the screenplay. Recalls the writer: “I hadn’t seen ‘Infernal Affairs,’ and I didn’t want to watch it before adapting the story. I worked from a translation of the Chinese script.

Says director Scorsese: “‘Infernal Affairs’ is a very good example of why I love the Hong Kong Cinema, but ‘The Departed’ is not a remake of that film. Our film was inspired by ‘Infernal Affairs,’ because of the nature of the story. However, the world Monahan created is very different from the Hong Kong film.

New Yarn and Characters

Monahan says, “There was a great central story around which I could create new characters. I loved the duplicity of the characters in the Chinese film, but my adaptation, thematically, is all about the engine of tragedy, that is started when people depart from what they really should be doing with their lives.”

And Scorsese recalls that when he received the script, “It took me quite a while to read through it, because I began visualizing the action and getting into the nature of the story and the characters. One of the things that hit me was that the depiction of the characters and their attitudes toward the world in which they live was so uncompromising. That’s what really got me interested in directing the movie.”

Back to Scorsese’s Glory Days

For producer Graham King, “‘The Departed’ takes Scorsese back to his days of ‘GoodFellas’ (1990) and ‘Mean Streets’ (1973), which is a genre he has been identified with in the past. But in this film, Scorsese is taking that genre and turning it into something new and different and original. That’s what Marty always does.”

Working With Scorsese

“Working with Scorsese was extraordinary,” says Monahan. “It was a privilege to see him put the film together in his mind as we were discussing the script. It’s like having years of film school packed into each and every day.”

Boston Setting

Monahan explains: “I set ‘The Departed’ in a world with which Scorsese was very familiar. The project came about at a time when I was thinking about Boston, where I came from, and about the people I had lost in my own life. So it allowed me to explore themes that were very personal to me.”

Thomas B. Duffy, a 30-year-vet of the Mass. State Police, who served as a technical consultant for “The Departed,” reveals that Monahan’s decision to center the film on the battle between the “Staties,” and Boston’s Irish mob has its basis in reality. Says Duffy: “Certainly in ‘Southie,’ the Irish mob dominated and controlled the city’s underworld, at least from the early 1970s until just a few years ago. They were the pinnacle of the criminal world there.”

Leonardo DiCaprio

Collaborating for the third time with Scorsese, after “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” Leonardo DiCaprio comments: “As much as it is a gangster movie, ‘The Departed,’ is unlike anything Marty has ever done. It deals with a very different set of circumstancesnot just that it involves the Irish underworld, but also the fact that it deals with the police force and the corruption there, as well.

It is also set in a completely different environment, being Boston, not New York City and Little Italy. Although, as we went on, we saw it more as a story of American and the corruption of certain systems in our country as a whole.

Particular and Universal

Scorsese confirms DiCaprio’s interpretation, noting, “William Monahan is an Irish American from Boston, so he placed the characters in that milieu. Nevertheless, the story is about people in a situation that, in a sense, could be found in any city around the world.

With that said, however, we wanted to be as true as possible to Boston and the nature of its people, but, once again, this is a story of trust and betrayal and deception and loyalty, which could be told anywhere.”
Social and Psychological Forces

Scorsese observes that the story is about “how two young men are shaped by the forces in their lives: the institution of the police and a crime group headed by a figure named Frank Costello. Costello takes Colin as a young boy and makes him into a seeming pillar of the community so he can rise up in the hierarchy of the state police. But, in reality, he is Costello’s inside man.

At the same time, Billy is the perfect material for the police to send undercover, because he comes from the working-class element of South Boston. He is put in the position to join Costello’s crew, but he has really been set up to rat on Costello.

It’s like Billy and Colin are running on parallel tracks, but they will ultimately end up on a collision course.”