One Great Scene: THE DEPARTED
In this series of articles, we’re going to do a deep-dive on one knockout scene from a great movie. Today’s movie is THE DEPARTED. The scene is when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character interviews to join the police force. Here’s a link to the scene as a refresher (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vInFuLgwR1U). The scene is really about Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg recruiting DiCaprio to become an undercover cop. But they never say that out loud, throughout the entire scene.
Matt Damon’s character interviews first, quickly. Dignam and Queenan speak to him briefly. Things are markedly different when DiCaprio’s character enters. Wahlberg asks about DiCaprio’s character’s uncle Jackie. DiCaprio tries to pretend his uncle was a regular person, but Wahlberg’s character knows he was actually a small-time bookie who got killed.
The scene escalates with Wahlberg’s Dignam explaining that DiCaprio’s Costigan’s family is mostly made up of criminals, with rare exceptions. Costigan lived on the North Shore part of the time growing up, but also hung out in the Southie projects.
A key line in the scene, in typical DEPARTED-fashion, is when Dignam asks Costigan, “Tell me, what’s a lace curtain motherfucker like you doing in the staties?” This fundamental dichotomy is why Costigan is well-suited to undercover work. He’s too smart to be a regular cop, but knows how to pretend to be a regular scumbag, essentially.
This is why Dignam runs down Costigan’s entire family tree of criminals. It’s why Costigan’s high SAT score gets referenced in the scene. And again, the brilliance of the scene is that no one says out loud, “Hey, do you want to become an undercover cop?”
Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan instead asks if Costigan wants to be a cop, or he wants to appear to be a cop. The difference is key. He’s really asking if Costigan wants to put himself through major sacrifice to achieve higher crime-fighting value as a cop.
Dignam and Queenan insist that Costigan will not be a regular cop. “You’re an astronaut, not a Statie.” Consider how confrontational Dignam particularly is in this scene. It’s rife with conflict, but they’re really just asking Costigan to become an undercover cop.
The average version of this scene would have no conflict, and just get to the point. Instead, the film frames the scene as a mystery and a verbal fight. What are Dignam and Queenan talking about? It’s not immediately obvious. Why does Dignam seemingly hate Costigan so much? Or does he? By the end, he’s admitted he actually respects Costigan so much that he can’t let him be a regular cop, it would be a waste of his intellect.
Is this a great scene to you? Let us know in the comments below.