Martin Scorsese is known for crime thriller films based on true stories, and The Departed doesn’t defy those expectations. In this film, a police recruit named Billy Costigan Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover to infiltrate the Irish Mob, as it would otherwise be impossible to adequately monitor their communications. As is often the case when undercover, Costigan must worry about any revelations of his identity and being tracked down and targeted for death.

There’s also another prominent mole in the story, Staff Sergeant Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who does some dirty work for Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Want further complications? Okay, try this on for size: Frank Costello is himself an FBI informant, which leads to a huge, tangled web full of rats, trickery, and convoluted spy dynamics. Oh yeah, and part of the story also involves selling stolen microprocessors to a Chinese gang.

How Complicated is ‘The Departed’?

Despite all stated above, The Departed is surprisingly easy to follow, assuming one pays attention. It’s also interesting that Frank Costello is based on Irish-American gangster Whitey Bulger. Obviously, part of what makes this a thriller is that anyone could be killed at any moment, or at least end up in a hospital. It’s also simply a good movie, if not great (Scorsese has never totally botched a mob movie).

Another interesting element: A mole is similar to a rat, and a rat is a rat, whatever its name. Basically, none of these characters come away looking clean, with all the deceit and convoluted loyalties. Any one of these main characters is subject to a series of damning discoveries that could sink their twin operations (including, again, cashing in on the theft of microprocessors — possibly the weirdest story component here). Although Costello is basically the good guy, he’s still involved in actions where officers or mob crew members are ultimately assassinated, which is why he needs counseling for stress.

Tension Makes This Thriller

Part of what makes The Departed a thriller is a near-constant tension, which has few moments of release. Adding to this are a few loose-cannon characters like Captain George Ellerby, portrayed by Alec Baldwin in one of his best performances. There’s also Mark Wahlberg as Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam, who also brings plenty to the table. Between people like them, Costigan, and Costello, one wonders who might even survive and face trial, and presumably prison.

What are your thoughts on The Departed? Squeel at us like a rat in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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