Food4Thought full movie review The Tragic Hero of ‘The Departed’ (2006)
I never get tired of watching some films… on that selective list must come “A few good men”, “Titanic”, “Citade de Deus”, “El Laberinto del Fauno”, “Love Actually”, “Tropic Thunder” and most importantly, “The Departed”. Easily, it has to go down in sweet celluloid history as Martin Scorsese’s greatest directorial venture (Yes, I have the audacity to say that even with ‘Goodfellas’ in my DVD rack. For once, I agree with the Academy). Even though Leo Di Caprio (in his Billy Costigan avatar) was the show-stealer of this one, which of us did not connect (for want of a better term: sympathize) with the character of Matt Damon (Sergeant Colin Sullivan) in this film? Yes, Costigan has a disturbing past, was welcomed into the police department in the worst manner imaginable by Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), sent off to be a police informant in Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) Irish mafia gang, with only Dignam and Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) knowing the true identity of Billy. Whilst Matt Damon was simply the fairer side of the coin. He was “supposed” to have a disturbing childhood as well, which he dodged thanks to the generosity of bad-man Frank Costello; Frank prepped him to be a son, an accomplice and finally a pawn in the police department in the long run.
Evaluating the two scenarios, my co-watcher didn’t waste a moment to start hating Damon, even though she practically drooled over him in Ocean’s Twelve and the Bourne movies. But I felt differently… Colin Sullivan was just a puppet… a puppet in the hands of Costello. He was a cop, sure, but how could he perform his sergeant-duties with the debt of gratitude he owed Mafia-Nicholson? Would he have preferred being the good cop had he been given a choice? But ironically for him, Colin Sullivan showed unwavering loyalty towards a person who never trusted him, which was evident from the fact that Costello left Costigan (DeCaprio) in possession of tapes that could give Sullivan’s true identity (Of being the Mafia’s mole in the Department) away. Costello trusted the rat in his gang (DiCaprio) to his protégé Colin. Sullivan shot Costello himself when he became aware than the Mafia boss was also a valuable FBI informant. But couldn’t you see that Costello only got killed since he was slow enough to pull the trigger in time, and not because he hesitated to kill his somewhat ‘son’?
Here, my co-watcher interjects. “Come on, dude, didn’t you see how Costello pleaded ‘Colin, you’re like my son?’ And Bourne still shot the poor guy!”
“Imagine Jack to be The Joker if you are feeling bad for ‘Bourne’ killing ‘Costello’!” I shot back! “Costello didn’t mean it. He was just using the sense of gratitude of Colin Sullivan!”
On a personal level, Colin’s would-be wife Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) fell for Costigan (Who else could it be, eh?) and (probably… it was evident!) got pregnant with Costigan’s child. Sullivan never got a clue about the affair, as he blankly asks Madolyn near the end of the movie, “What about the baby?” You feel for Colin Sullivan… at least I did… so what if my co-watcher was mourning DiCaprio’s on-screen death!
Well, Costigan finally got wind of the true identity of Sullivan in the end. And he cornered Sullivan, of course (The Classic Climax!) until a bizarre twist of events left Costigan being killed by another (former) informant of Mafia Don Nicholson in the police department… Costigan’s pal Brown (Anthony Anderson) becomes collateral damage… and Sullivan finishing off the former mafia informant… making sure his true identity remained hidden forever. “That is one heinous act,” my co-watcher interjects, “heinous as hell (but necessary), just like the act of erasing Costigan’s files from the police database (which Sullivan did out of pure panic)”, but all those acts were acts of self-defense… we all know the lengths people can go to hide something from their life-partners, like a past affair or something… and this was a matter of life and death.
In the end, I guess my co-watcher would’ve hatched a plan to kill Scorsese had Sullivan survived all this. But as it turned out, Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) killed Sullivan, having found out the truth since Costigan made sure his lover (Again, the irony: Sullivan’s ex-fiance) sent the tapes to Dignam if “something” happened to him. And wasn’t it a conscious decision? Of course it was… and now my co-watcher fumbles!
It is a tragic death… a lonesome Sullivan was returning from the grocery store back to his apartment. His pregnant girlfriend had left him after knowing the truth; even the world seemed to hate him like a piece of scum. Coming into the apartment, Matt tried to cuddle a neighbor’s dog who dodged his hands… was it with a little help from his owner?
Even with a plethora of negative points about this character, Sullivan recommended an order of merit for Costigan, the man who had almost turned him in. It could’ve been an ‘act’ to convince his superiors… but I’d like to think otherwise (My co-watcher sniggers)… Maybe Sullivan appreciated the sacrifice that Costigan made for the Police department, one he never got a chance to do.
Every time I watch the movie, I find Sullivan’s to be the most lonesome character in the entire film. He himself is always in the dark… he trusts people, but people do not (ever) trust him back… he trusted Costello blindly. And yet, Costello trusted the rat (Costigan) more. He trusted his girlfriend, never even showing any signs that he was capable of cheating on her. But then, he got conned by his girlfriend, too. (‘Just what he deserved’, my co-watcher chirps in; she’s unbelievable!)
So if there is anyone out there who agrees with my co-watcher, do watch the movie one more time, and think about it! Didn’t Sullivan dream of joining a law school and leaving Boston for ever with his cheating girlfriend? Well, of course you don’t remember the scene, so Happy Watching!