Directing and Editing Make a Movie
In The Departed, 2007, Scorsese uses vivid shots of money and its relationship to the characters, to categorize the characters, and create a theme, which is, man’s attitude toward money is usually a mold of his character. He also implements blurry backgrounds and match on scene to retain the attention of the viewer on them. The type of shot taken, at what angle it is taken and the blurring of the background of the film’s major characters, in particular Colin Sullivan and Billy Costigan, who the movie basically revolves around, all combine to enhance the story-line. The movie is about two double agents, Billy and Colin, sent to infiltrate each other’s enemy camp, and the resulting actions thereof.
The movie is classical, even though it is recently made. Its plot is clearly a linear chronology. It has limited, or it can be argued, no flashbacks, as its plots and actions precede one after the other in a forward movement of time. The ending of the movie also provides complete closure: the bad guys are killed, every single one of them. And Billy is given a heroic burial with flags, gunshots and a memorial speech. He is, in fact, decorated with a postmortem award, the Medal of Merit; a good cop character’s reward.
The characters can be easily categorized into stereotypes. The viewer immediately knows who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and who the crooked cop is. The goal of the major characters is also easily identified: Colin wants to be rich and successful; he wants to be close to the seat of power, which can be seen in his fascination with the State House. He is seen staring at it for a while, after the football game which Barrigan, a fellow policeman, notices and advises him, “forget it, your father was a janitor, his son’s only a cop.” However, Colin still goes ahead and buys an apartment that has a spectacular view of the state house. The realtor who sells him the space tells him, “If you move in, you’re upper-class by about Tuesday.” Billy, on the other hand, wants to get away from his “family lifestyle and business” as much as possible. He chooses to be a good cop and be the kind of good person his father was. Frank Costello wants what every mob boss wants: to get away scot free from the repercussions of his action and to be able to run things without the interference of the cops. The “staties” and the Boston Police, as usual, want to make the city as crime free as possible. Because of their different goals and aspirations, their attitude toward money differs; Colin wants prestige and riches, so he would do anything for money. Billy on the other hand just wants an honest life and so he is not easily motivated and influenced by money.
The use of money as a motif is prevalent throughout the movie. It is used to build and categorize the characters. At the beginning, Costello ends his narration about the past in contrast to the present with this statement, “no one ever gives it to you. You have to take it.” Next he is seen going to Singh’s shop to pick up his mafia collection from him. After the transaction, there is a close up of the money. Costello spreads the money and with the use of shallow focus, the viewer can clearly see that it is three notes: two tens and one five. He buys a cigarette lighter, money changes hands again, and Carmen gives him his change. He then jingles the coins loudly and pulls Colin right hand out, and there is also a close shot of him dropping the coins into Colin’s hand. Once again, the coins are spread out, one can calculate the amount: it is three quarters, two dimes and two pennies. Costello then proceeds to tell Colin “if you ever wanna earn a little extra money, you come by L Street.” This scene is a milestone in Colin’s life; one realizes that his answer to the invitation would be the definition of his life from that moment on. If he decides to join Costello and be bought, then he would be a crook, and if not, then he would be free. But of course Colin joins Costello and exchanges his conscience for money and prestige.
Once more at the end, when Billy finally gets Colin to the topmost floor of the building where Captain Queenan died, all Colin could say to save his life is “I can get you your money,” even though Billy had already told him a couple of times that all he wants is his identity back. All of this vivid projection of money is done to effectively build up the characterization. Costello is a mobster who does not trust anybody that acts like they do not need money. Colin is corrupt because he wants to be rich and so he is Costello’s ideal man. Billy on the other hand does not really need or want the money and he is an honest cop. In all, the director and cinematographer use money for character development which ties back to the theme that a man’s reaction to money is the definition of his character.
In addition to the characters being built through the use of the money theme; the use of blurry character’s background and the projection of a connection between Colin and Billy are implemented to retain the attention of the viewers on the characters. With Colin, the background and the people in them are blurred whenever he is projected close up, thereby casting the attention of the viewer solely on him. For example, when one initially meets him in Singh’s shop, the other boys and sometimes Carmen whenever she is behind him are blurred whereas Colin is totally clear and distinct. Also, when one first encounters him as an adult, during his academic training; all one sees at first, is a pool of blue behind him until the focus slowly becomes clearer. Then the audience can see that it is the uniforms of other people, after which the camera pans out and we can see the Academy students fully. The only iris shot used in the movie is used on him. When he first resumes duty as a cop, there is a sudden iris out and a gradual iris in shot of him standing on the road. As the circle gradually opens, one sees cars cruising by and a few blurred humans in sight. This can be interpreted as him going alone to face a seemingly new world.
As for Billy, the blurring edit is also used for him; however not as much intensely as Colin’s. When one is first introduced to him, his background is a little bit blurred. And when he is being interrogated by Sergeant Dignam and Captain Queenan, the flask, the hot cups, awards, the picture on the desk and wall, and other items behind him are all blurry. The blurring of the background is done so that the viewer does not have any choice but to give the main character their exclusive attention since there is no interesting item they can see in the background to distract them.
In line with maintaining the focus of the viewers on the characters, Scorsese also employs the use of match on action and montage to project a connection of Billy and Colin’s world, thereby fanning the curiosity and attention of the viewers. For instance, in the scenes where they are initially shown receiving academic training and writing the academy exams, the shots are juxtaposed in a continuous cut. There is also a continuous match on action with Billy shooting dummies in training and Colin charging into a building to arrest some criminals. The cut of each world is effectively put side by side to herald the beginning of both characters working connectively. Also, when they both report to Queenan and Digman for the first time, both men are in the same room, they could have met or at least seen each other that particular day but they do not. This particular kind of scene is typical in films when the director wants to indicate a connection and a path crossing between two or more characters in the future timeline of the film. One later sees this manifest; however, they do not meet until the end, as the progression and the climax of the movie depend on their meeting. This is also done to retain the attention of the audience on both men; one wants to know the circumstance which they physically meet and the resulting action thereof.
The art of the director as well as the cinematographer is evident and fascinating. Through match on action, montage, blurry backgrounds and vivid shots of money used, the theme, plot development and the character development is built. One realizes that Colin and Billy’s life are
The Departed. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and
Mark Wahlberg. Warner Bros.Pictures, 2007. DVD.