The Departed – BLUE’S BEATS #18
Blue’s Beats is a blog series where we break down various feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.
This weekend, Black Mass, the Johnny Depp vehicle directed by Scott Cooper, was released in theaters. It tells the true story of Whitey Bulger, a notorious gangster from South Boston, who once sat at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list.
The buzz surrounding Black Mass made me want to revisit another gangster flick set in South Boston, my personal favorite film from auteur director Martin Scorsese, The Departed. Released in 2006, and starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin, The Departed is a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs. It was extremely well received by critics and earned Oscars for Best Editing, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Motion Picture of the Year at the 2007 Academy Awards.
William Monahan wrote the award winning screenplay, which can be viewed here.
Set against the backdrop of South Boston, an undercover cop infiltrates an Irish gang, searching for a mole in the police. Little does he know, the mole is likewise searching for him, the rat in the gang.
The film opens with a montage of news footage and a voiceover from our primary antagonist, gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Throughout the montage, exposition provides insight into Frank’s character and introduces Colin Sullivan as a child, Frank’s eventual informant in the police (Matt Damon). A bit of notable cinematography conceals Frank’s face in shadow for the majority of the montage, creating a sense of intrigue, as well as fear and uncertainty, regarding the character. A match cut on page 6 jumps the story forward in time. Colin is no longer a child, but is now a police trainee, graduating from the academy. Frank congratulates Colin, and the scene cuts on page 8, four years later, to another student, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). Another montage shows Billy’s own progression through the academy, a parallel to Colin’s own experience. The scene cuts between Billy’s training and Colin’s experience in the gang unit.
“COPS enter past Colin and pigpile the man. COLIN is chewing gum, all testosterone and aggression, glad to be a cop. The smartest guy in the room.”
Within 10 pages, decades have passed and the three primary characters have already been painted with rich characterization.
We now have two parallel story lines, one following Colin and the other following Billy. Colin is accepted into the Special Investigations Unit as a detective on page 10, and on page 11, both characters are at a juncture. As Colin leaves Captain Queenan’s (Martin Sheen) office, Billy enters, the two never even noticing one another. The inciting incident occurs for Colin on pages 14 through 16 as he joins the team investigating Frank. The inciting incident occurs for Billy in Queenan’s office, as he is offered an undercover position within the State Police, tasked with infiltrating Frank’s criminal organization. This scene is interspersed with more backstory, and the First Act ends with Billy’s decision on page 22.
PLOT POINT ONE
To go undercover, Billy must seem the part. He goes to jail for some time, and, as far as anyone is concerned, is kicked out of the police academy. He further damages his reputation so that he may gain Frank’s respect and trust. On page 41, Billy and Frank meet for the first time at Frank’s bar. Frank invites Billy into the back room where he is frisked for wires, breaking into the cast on Billy’s arm. Having found no evidence of a wire, and with Billy’s insistence that he is no longer a cop, Frank begins to trust his newfound associate, page 44.
Frank is selling a batch of stolen microprocessors to a group of Chinese buyers, and the deal is set to go down in an abandoned warehouse. On page 70, the police and FBI set up a raid from an old office building near the warehouse. The FBI is tracking cell signals, so no phones may be used, information Colin quickly relays to Frank. Yet, Billy still communicates with Queenan. This reveals the presence of a mole within Frank’s organization. Colin tips off Frank who is able to negotiate the transaction and escape by boat, page 78, which alerts Queenan to the probability of a mole within the police. The storylines now shift from infiltrating the respective organizations to finding the respective moles.
PLOT POINT TWO
With no leads from Colin, Frank is getting desperate trying to find the rat in his crew. Billy worries that Frank is slipping into madness and demands to meet with Queenan. In an attempt to learn Billy’s identity as the mole, Colin sends a detail to follow Queenan. On page 119, Billy and Queenan meet on the roof of an abandoned building. Colin alerts Frank, who then sends his guys to confront Queenan and learn the rat’s identity. Billy runs to escape while Queenan waits, hoping to hold Frank’s men at bay. As Billy reaches the street, Queenan’s body, thrown from the roof, hits the pavement, dead on impact, page 122. Queenan’s death leaves Billy with no one he can trust, other than Sergeant Dignam, who promptly resigns, paving the way for Colin to gain access to Queenan’s files containing the identities of his undercover agents, including Billy.
CRISIS AND CLIMAX
Colin learns that Frank is a protected FBI informant. Fearing for his own security, he allows Frank to be caught in a police raid, which ends when Colin kills Frank on page 137. With Frank dead, Billy returns to the police, hoping to put his time undercover behind him. At the station, the parallel stories return to a juncture. Billy and Colin are both back in the same station, however, this time they are fully aware of one another’s presence. Colin knows that Billy was the rat in Frank’s gang, and Billy learns that Colin was the mole in the police, page 141. The story crescendos in a bloody climax with Billy’s death on page 150. Billy attempted to arrest Colin, but was killed by another cop who was also a mole, unbeknownst to anyone. To cover his tracks, Colin kills the cop who saved his life.
Colin recommends that Billy receive a posthumous Medal of Merit, attends his funeral, and appears to have escaped the situation cleanly. Until, that is, the arrival of Sergeant Dignam, who waits for Colin to come home to his apartment and kills him, exacting revenge for Queenan’s death on the final page. The film ends with the image of a single rat on the balcony of Colin’s apartment.
If you are a fan of either gangster films or Scorsese, perhaps even both, definitely take a look at The Departed. As fast paced as the film’s commendable editing, Monahan’s script is a great read.
Founded in 1998, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition seeks to develop and discover unknown screenwriters. For 2016 BlueCat Screenplay Competition submission information, click here.