Here's the book's take on the other movie in the subtitle. It's one of the book's more famous movies, but it's no ordinary Boston movie: it's a remake of a Hong Kong movie directed by a moviemaker strongly associated with another city, not Boston. Of course, with screenwriter William Monahan, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg involved, it's not as if there aren't any locals involved.
2006. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by William Monahan. Based on Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. With Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga and Alec Baldwin. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus.
MARTIN SCORSESE’S AWARD-WINNING crime drama is one of the best Boston movies. But, like many others, it’s a mix of real Boston and fake Boston. After all, Mean Streets, Raging Bull and GoodFellas director Scorsese is the foremost New York director of his time. And more of The Departed was shot in his hometown than in the city where it takes place.
But Bostonian William Monahan wrote it, putting a Boston overlay on Infernal Affairs, the cleverly plotted 2002 Hong Kong movie about a crook pretending to be a cop and a cop pretending to be a crook. And homegrown Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg are in its cast. Take The Departed out of Boston and you wouldn’t just lose the repressed atmosphere in which everyone, especially the two moles, is stingy about personal details. You’d have to lose one of its essential scenes, and its best Boston moment. That’s when State Police sergeant Dignam (Wahlberg) tries to goad just-graduated State Police cadet Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) into going undercover in the South Boston mob by targeting Costigan’s embarrassment over coming from a family of underachievers, and his identity crisis from having split his youth between his “lace curtain” remarried mom on the North Shore and his downscale father in Southie. “You had different accents,” Dignam prods. “You did, didn’t you, you little fuckin’ snake?” Dignam has found a weak spot to squeeze and he won’t let go.
The scene doesn’t just mark Costigan as a character who could only be from within the confining loop of Route 128. It also taps into Bostonians’ tendencies to skip the pleasantries and rub each other raw. This isn’t the playful “You talking to me?” or “Whadya mean, I’m funny?” Scorsese cursing by Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci. It’s a hailstorm of dropped-R, in-your-face, smart-ass expletives worthy of the verbal sparring in George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Yes, I’m talking to you. These Staties are like hockey dads, with guns. They’re just looking for an excuse to go after somebody.
The writing in the scene and the specific Boston qualities of Costigan are among the best instances of The Departed embellishing Infernal Affairs. Almost all of the plot comes from the Hong Kong film, from such big elements as a mob boss having a young protege become a cop so he’ll have a friend inside the department (this time, the characters are Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello and Damon’s Colin Sullivan), to little things such as Costello smashing Costigan’s arm cast (lest it contain a recording device) and two henchmen joking about how you can tell who’s an undercover cop.
In its bulk-up from Hong Kong action drama to big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, The Departed certainly has problems here and there, though. It distressed this longtime Scorsese fan to see his Mean Streets innovation of using a rock-song score devolve into nothingness—wall-to-wall use of songs in which few of them actually have dramatic meaning—while the expanded character of a female psychologist (Vera Farmiga) comes off like a Hollywood convenience who’s around just to have affairs with the two conflicting male leads.
One of the local aspects of The Departed that’s been overly doted upon is that Costello is based on one-time South Boston mob boss and longtime fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger. Monahan’s script adds a Whitey-like touch to Costello now and then, including the strong suggestion that he’s an FBI informant. But 95% of the character is from Infernal Affairs and Nicholson, whose trademark leering sometimes detracts from the drama.
Like the Whitey connection, the locations used in The Departed supply an extra dimension for those aware of them. Scorsese and crew shot here for six weeks, using Staniford Street’s butt-ugly Hurley Building for State Police headquarters, Charlestown’s Flagship Wharf condos for Costello’s luxurious digs and the Quincy Shipyard for the microchip-sale stakeout and the climactic showdown between Costello’s crew and the police. You can also spot Boston Common in the opening rugby scene, Quincy Bay as the remote spot where Costigan has a rendezvous with his police contacts, the exterior of the Moakley Courthouse (from where Costigan makes a phone call), the Lewis Wharf area (where Dignam and his boss confront Costello) and the Park Street and South Station Red Line stations. The rooftop scenes take place in the Fort Point Channel area, off of Farnsworth Street, Costigan pursues Sullivan down Tyler Street and into the Chinatown parking lots bordered by Edinboro, Ping On and Oxford Streets, and such other spots as Charles Street (where the exterior of Charles Street Cleaners was made over as a bistro) and the ever-familiar Zakim Bridge are also visible. Sullivan’s condo with a sweet view of the State House is a fake, though. Those scenes weren’t done locally, and were presumably done on a New York soundstage with a photomural for its powerful “view.”
With a sequel for The Departed now in the works (featuring Wahlberg’s Dignam) and tax breaks now in place that make it more desirable for Hollywood productions to shoot in Massachusetts, chances are any Departed follow-ups will shoot in Boston more than the original did.
►Locations: South Boston, Charlestown, Chinatown, Seaport District, Beacon Hill, Dorchester, East Boston, Boston; Quincy; Cambridge.
►Accents: Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg amp up their lingering accents and give The Departed a sense of authenticity. Others in the cast are hit and miss. Costigan’s accent is supposed to be weak, thanks to his childhood split between his upwardly mobile mother and his Southie dad, and DiCaprio does fine with the light accent. Nicholson and Alec Baldwin are inconsistent, Vera Farmiga is passable, Martin Sheen just cranks up the Kennedy accent he used playing both John and Bobby in different TV movies and Ray Winstone’s accent is an unpredictable mix of Boston, generic American and his own English accent (big deal—he’s always been a ferocious actor, and he’s a force here). All in all, above average, as nobody is awkward enough to spoil his or her performance.
►Local color: As in Mystic River, there’s much use of the Staties nickname for the State Police. But William Monahan’s script gets even littler details right. It’s just perfect that the Staties’ secretary we see is named Darlene. Who didn’t go to high school in Greater Boston during the 1970s or 1980s with a Darlene, a Darlene that might go on to have a job just like that? Throw in The Dropkick Murphys’ anthemic “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” a clip from the old Channel 56 news and a Brigham’s reference, and the local flavor gets stronger. And you just have to grin at any line of dialogue describing someone once holding down the job of “carpet layer for Jordan Marsh.”