I just saw the 2006 movie The Departed. Initial reaction: Wow, that was awesome!
But the more I think about it, the more I notice serious problems with the plot, as follows.
The setup: Boston. The cops and criminals are infiltrating each other:
• Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson) is the main bad guy, an absolutely cold-blooded killer and all-around psycho. To go undercover in his gang, the cops use…
• William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio).
• Costigan’s police handlers are Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). For operational security, they’re the only two people in the world who know that Costigan’s an undercover cop.
• While the cops are infiltrating Costello’s gang, Costello’s gang is infiltrating the cops. Costello’s mole is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon).
Bad guys: Costello, Sullivan.
Good guys: Mainly Costigan, with a side helping of Queenan and Dignam.
Now the plot problems:
1. Costello goes to a lot of trouble to find out if there’s a mole in his gang. This causes tension because he’ll kill Costigan if he learns Costigan’s the mole. But Costello is eventually revealed to be a protected FBI informant (I told you there would be spoilers!). Given that, why the hell does he care if there’s a rat in his gang? He’s untouchable!
2. Furthermore, if he’s a protected FBI informant, then why did he bother to place a mole in the local police? Again, he’s untouchable! Maybe Costello planted the mole in the cops before he became an informant, but if so, that should be mentioned.
3. Costigan assembles a record as a petty criminal as part of his undercover persona. He even spends time in prison. When he gets out, as part of the terms of his probation, has to talk to a psychiatrist on a regular basis. (Remember, no one in the world except Queenan and Dignam knows he’s an undercover cop. The rest of the justice system thinks he’s just another petty criminal.)
This psychiatrist turns out to be… Madolyn Madden, a woman whom Sullivan just happens to be dating. Oh, come on! What are the odds? Especially since she’s a police psychiatrist. Why would they assign a criminal to a police psychiatrist, of all the psychiatrists in Boston? There are all kinds of ethics and operational security issues there! Just imagine the potential for accidental leaks of police matters to criminals and whatnot! She’s exactly the last psychiatrist they’d assign to a criminal on probation.
By the way, a psychiatrist who’s basically named Mad Maddie? Are they trying to say something about her? There is something a little off about her. In particular, she seems to get a thrill from, or at least be excessively dependent on, lying.
4. When Queenan is killed by bad guys, Dignam is the only person in the world who knows that Costigan is an undercover cop. Later Dignam is removed from the situation because he slugs another cop. His punishment is two weeks’ disciplinary leave, and we’re supposed to believe this is a disaster for Costigan because now no active-duty cop knows who he really is. But big deal! All Costigan has to do is wait this out for two weeks.
Later it’s stated that Dignam “handed in his papers” and he may be on indefinite leave. It’s hard to tell. But this doesn’t make sense either. He’d tell some other cop(s) about Costigan; he wouldn’t just leave Costigan hanging.
5. Near the end, Costigan and Sullivan are talking in Sullivan’s office and Sullivan has to step out for a moment. Costigan notices a damning envelope on Sullivan’s desk, revealing that Sullivan is Costello’s mole inside the police. What happens next makes no fucking sense. Costigan sloppily replaces the envelope, so it’s obviously been handled, and leaves! WTF!? That’s basically a flashing red sign telling Sullivan that Costigan knows he’s a mole. Why the fuck would Costigan do that? The only living cop who knows Costigan was undercover is gone for a couple of weeks. And Sullivan, who Costigan now knows is a bad guy, has access to his police file and can erase it, thus rendering Costigan, as far as anyone knows, just another petty criminal. And Costigan knows all this! Why would he let Sullivan know that he knows Sullivan’s a bad guy? Especially since…
All Costigan has to do is wait until Dignam comes back from disciplinary leave. Then Costigan can rat out Sullivan to Dignam, they can arrest him, and there’s someone who knows that Costigan’s actually a cop. What Costigan does just doesn’t make any sense from his point of view. All he has to do is carefully replace the envelope, remain in the room until Sullivan comes back, and then keep acting normal.
And the consequences of tipping his hand turn out to be disastrous for him.
6. There’s no reason for Madolyn to be in the movie. She has no effect on anything. I suspect they wanted to have at least one major female character. But this compromises the tightness of the story.
7. This isn’t an internal inconsistency in the plot, but it’s unsatisfying: The only reason that Our Hero Costigan affects anything is that he accidentally and without realizing it reveals some important info to another character.
Here’s what happens: Costigan meets with Captain Queenan, one of his handlers, in a meeting that both the other cops (who think Costigan’s a criminal, remember) and Costello’s gang find out about. They all rush to the meeting location, and in the ensuing violent chaos Costigan escapes without being made by anyone, but Queenan is killed by Costello’s gang.
As a result of that, there is of course a murder case regarding Queenan, and Sullivan is sifting through the evidence when he finds some of Queenan’s notes about how Costello is an FBI informant. (By the way, why the fuck is Queenan trying to bring down Costello if he knows he’s a protected informant?) Sullivan is enraged and he kills Costello over this.
So the only effect that our hero has on the outcome is the accidental byproduct of a murder investigation accidentally turning up some evidence that makes Costello’s own guy kill him. WTF? That’s not satisfying! The main character should affect something important by intent, not just due to, as it were, accidentally bumping into furniture in the dark.
There’s a lot of tension while the movie is running, and a lot of fireworks and “Oh, shit!” moments, but the more you think about it after it’s over, the more you’re like, “This plot made… no… fucking… sense.” Warn the people! Warn the people!
The critics loved this movie, by the way, which tells you that they had the same reaction that I initially had, but didn’t take the time to think it over more carefully before they wrote their reviews. That’s the problem with writing on a deadline, I guess. BLOGGERS: Thinking the Deep Thoughts the mainstream media can’t!