The Departed: Film Analysis

Law and Order. Deception vs. Loyalty.

You wouldn’t think these 4 words could be intertwined and yet, it is so easy to blur them together. The Departed follows small time Irish mobster Frank Costello who groomed future police officer Colin Sullivan to infiltrate the Boston police department, so Costello can continue his illegal activities. Unknown to them though, the Boston PD themselves placed a mole directly into Costello’s crew with another police officer, Billy Costigan, who has something to prove because of his father’s family involvement with crime. Both men are caught in intricate webs of lies and deceit that affect one another so much that their lives become more and more entangled with each other. Director Martin Scorsese tries to establish how Costello is the antagonist or “bad guy” and how strong his impact is on Sullivan by using lighting, camera angles, and framing. This scene at the beginning of the movie is used demonstrate how much of a hold Costello had on Colin Sullivan from the time he was a young boy.

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When Costello first meets Sullivan, he is completely in the dark in contrast to Sullivan’s bright clothing and surrounding. Scorsese uses low-key lighting on Costello throughout the entire scene, to indicate that he is this ominous, powerful bad guy, someone the audience should be suspicious, and/or scared of and that his presence is symbolic with Sullivan’s darker thinking, which was why he was with Sullivan through the whole scene except for the part in the church. He also uses a low camera angle to show how strong Costello’s influence is and how easy it was for him to sway young Sullivan like when he gave him the food, comic books and money. These little acts gained the trust of Sullivan making it easy for Costello to control him. The flashback to the church implies that at one point, Sullivan was pure. He was in white and he was taking his vows, which tells us that at one time he was filled with this innocence before Costello corrupted him and shaped him into who he wanted him to be.

The conversation that’s taking place in the garage can be interpreted as Sullivan looking to Costello as a role model which Costello exploits. Scorsese uses a lot of diegetic sounds like the bell, the change, and the priest talking as well as non-diegetic sounds like the rock music. The normal sounds are what Sullivan’s life was like before it was changed by Costello which is why it’s soft and peaceful. The rock music gets which is deafening and chaotic gradually gets louder which is symbolic for Costello’s hold on Sullivan getting stronger. Scorsese’s techniques not only establish Costello’s character as an antagonist, it also shows the connection between him and Sullivan growing, until it has a profound effect on Sullivan’s adult life as a cop and eventually leads him to double-cross and kill Costello.

By slowly unraveling what Costello worked so hard on, Sullivan defies his background, and pretends to be the good guy. Overall these methods are strong and persuasive enough to leave an audience wanting to know more.