There's something about a Martin Scorsese movie. You just know you're going to get interesting characters and be challenged to read the subtext between the grittiness and excitement. When The Departed hit theaters, I'm not sure people were ready for the tour de force.
Scorsese had a relatively quiet entry into the 2000s, with some underperforming movies (Bring Out the Dead) and underappreciated (The Aviator) masterpieces. His big hit was Gangs of New York, but the jury was out on it.
When it was announced he would remake the Chinese movie Infernal Affairs, there was a buzz across Hollywood. As casting got underway, and Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jack Nicholson joined, people wondered if this would finally be the year Martin Scorsese got his Academy Award.
Spoiler alert: it was.
The Departed is one of the most exciting and exhilarating movies ever made. It's full of twists, turns, double-crosses, murders, and an ending that's impossible to forget.
So check out the script, gather your rats, and let's see what we can learn from the storytelling.
Read and Download The Departed Script PDF here and check out the trailer below.
Three Lessons from The Departed Script
1. It's fun to see smart people in conflict
One of the hardest things about writing is that you have to formulate characters who could conceivably face off in a realistic manner. When you have them outsmart one another, that bar gets raised yet again.
Writing smart characters is not easy, but it makes your story all the more thrilling. The audience will thank you, and so will the actors. It's much easier for them to embody someone who seems like they have a plan than someone who just happens into it.
'The Departed'Credit: Warner Bros.
2. Locations as a character
When they decided to remake Infernal Affairs, they moved the location from China to Boston. Boston really becomes a character in the film. From the neighborhoods that define characters, their social status, and who you can trust, to the accents and loyalty between cops and mafia.
Making your location stand out is a great way to add another layer to the story. And it helps that Boston has an excellent kickback for productions that shoot there.
3. Go out with a bang
One thing I appreciate about The Departed is that it never feels like it stops. Other movies take their foot off the gas, but even as the bodies mount in this one, it keeps going. I remember the funeral scene at the end and being astounded that we were still putting together a thrilling finish. When Wahlberg shows up inside the apartment, you finally get the crescendo.
'The Departed'Credit: Warner Bros.
Everyone loves hating on the rat at the end of the movie, but there are lots of deeper things within the movie. From the hidden "X" that Scorsese hides in frames, to Damon's character's impotence (maybe he's closeted?), to just the very idea that loyalty will get you burnt.
Symbolism matters. What will your work say, and is there a subtle way to show it?
5. Creative camerawork
When it comes to the cinematography in this movie, I don't think we talk enough about how it takes sweeping pans and carefully planned crane shots that show the beauty of the city.
The movie was shot on film using ARRICAM Studio (ST) Camera, ARRIFLEX 235 Camera, ARRIFLEX 435 Camera, and Angenieux Optimo Zoom Lenses, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses, Zeiss Ultra Prime Lenses, Zeiss Variable Prime Lenses with Michael Ballhaus as the cinematographer. Ballhaus hates violence, and I think that influenced the way he shot it, almost reserved. Every bullet and spatter hit home.
He said of the film, “Marty is my favorite director because he’s the most visual filmmaker I’ve worked with in America, but if you have a philosophy about violence, you’d better put it aside when you work with him. In general, I’m not a big fan of violence, but in Marty’s case, I accept it. If I had an offer from a different director to shoot this type of movie, I might not do it. Sometimes you can feel hurt or insulted by the violence, but the world Marty is portraying is violent, and the way he presents those scenes tells you something about the characters. So I see a reason for it in terms of the story.”
6. Identify with your antagonist
every character needs to have their own motivations, but it doesn't mean we need to know them all the time, as long as they are revealed eventually. We see in this film so many swirling motivations. Costigan is trying to run Boston and is making a ton of money doing it. But really, he wants to survive as long as other people get caught, which is what makes him an informant for the FBI. This desire to stay alive is something we understand on a visceral level. For Damon's character, he doesn't want to get caught. He will do anything to keep his name clear.
What motivates the bad guys in your story? Do they have principles? A guiding force? Make sure it's clear to the audience.
7. Trust your editor
Thelma Schoonmaker is one of the greatest editors of all time. She and Scorsese have an incredible relationship, and she deserved all the accolades and awards she got for this film.
To foster the frenetic pace, we saw a total of 3,200 cuts, meaning the average length of a shot was 2.7 seconds. This imbued energy into the film. Like the characters, we didn't pause much to think, just acted. The lesson here is to form trust with your editor, tell them your goals, and see how you can collaborate to achieve them.
8. Remake the soul, not the story
We have said this a few times, but this is a remake of a Chinese movie. Instead of copying the whole story and the shits, what we have here is more of a copy of the logline and the basic elements. The characters all have their own depth, Boston pops as a locale, and there's a different energy.
Infernal Affairs uses more crosscutting and melodrama to tell a story about fate. The Departed is much more centered on consequences.
If you get the opportunity to adapt, bring your own spin on things. Make it personal, or it will never work in your favor.
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