The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)

In The Departed (2006), a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002), Martin Scorsese constructs an intricate web of cops, criminals, and moles. None of the cops or criminals are absolutely good or bad – they are all in a gray area. Because of this, the characters are ostensibly jumbled together and thrown into a melting pot; each of them could be a cop or a criminal, and, apart from whether they have a badge or not, they are indiscernible. Moreover, in the end, regardless of their position, they will all inevitably become the dearly departed.

In the first scene of the film, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) tells young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), “when I was young, they said you could become cops or criminals. But what I’m saying is this…when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” In the film, William Costigan Jr. (Leonardo Di Caprio) works as a police informant in the South Boston gangland. Meanwhile, Colin Sullivan, a member of Costello’s gang, works as a staff Sergeant for the State Of Massachusetts Police Department. They are both essentially moles, but neither need to act any differently in order to pull it off. This prompts an existential struggle against their own consciences, especially for Costigan; neither of them can tell if what they are doing is right or wrong, or whether they are truly a cop or a criminal.

While Costigan is working undercover, his identity as a cop is tenuously held together – only two people are aware of it. At the push of a button, William Costigan could go from being an undercover police informant to being a wanted criminal. This interject ability exemplifies the indiscernible nature of cops and criminals.

Towards the end of the film, we learn that Frank Costello, himself, is an FBI informant; although he does despicable and horrible things, he is protected by the FBI. Morever, we learn that Frank had another mole inside the police department. Each of the moles, including Costigan and Sullivan, have to simultaneously act two-parts; they each must  be both a cop and a criminal. In light of this, they are in similar positions – each of them are risking their lives in the same way, just with a different façade.

The structure of the film amalgamates the complexities of cops and criminals, keeping the viewer confused about which side each character is on. The point of this is to show that the characters all act like one another because they truly are just like each other, and their status as a cop or criminal is merely the product of their particular environment and upbringing. In the end, they are all the same.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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