Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Favorite Scene: The Departed


What I’ve always been most drawn to concerning Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is its canny wit. And while my immediate reaction is to cite writer William Monahan for the film’s clever intellect, there are, of course, many others deserving of credit.

To get film-school technical, I love the overall mise en scène of The Departed – its style and tone and mood. I love the way Michael Ballhaus’ camera whips up and down, in and out while Mark Wahlberg profanely insults his co-workers while Thelma Schoonmaker cuts back and forth between three different stories that took place years apart. Most of The Departed is shot and edited like the 10-minute segment in Goodfellas where Henry Hill is being chased by a helicopter and stirring the pasta and doing a line and almost wrecking his car and cutting the shit. It’s fast and relentless.

Funny, then, that The Departed scene that has always stood out for me most is a brief moment in which a coincidental meeting in an elevator is heightened wondrously by the written word.

About 30 minutes into the film, after we’ve met the players, seen some bloodshed, and heard the Stones, crooked State Police Detective Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) bumps into psychiatrist Madolyn Maden (Vera Farmiga) in an elevator, and what quickly develops is one of the finest, most polished come-ons I’ve ever witnessed in a film.

Damon settles into the packed elevator, looks to his right and locks on Farmiga. She looks at him nervously, and in that perfect, trademarked Boston way, he begins playfully insulting her. Now, normally, I’d imagine most confident, career-driven women like Madolyn would tell a cocky guy like Colin to go fuck himself. Who is he to reduce what she does for a living? Thing is, the dude is so goddamn charming that he makes it impossible to turn away from him. Madolyn takes the bait, and the two exchange in a verbal volley of flirtation.
He makes her laugh, flexes his worth as a cop, and she exits the elevator amicably. But Monahan doesn’t let it stop. Instead, Colin props open the elevator door with his hand, and within a matter of seconds – after she’s accidentally insulted him, which he takes in stride – he’s got her locked down for dinner. It’s difficult to highlight the personal impact I gather from this scene without dictating the script word for word. But, for script and acting reasons (and the exercised restraint of the director), this sequence has always flown off the screen for me.

Sure, The Departed is filled with plenty more humorously crass and memorable exchanges of dialogue, but for 80 short seconds, Scorsese and Co. take us out of the street and drop in a little swagger. 

You’re in, you’re out, you’re sold. That’s Scorsese at his best.

Previous installments of My Favorite Scene include:

40 comments:

  1. Any scene with Mark Wahlberg in it was gold.

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    1. Ha no doubt. Literally everything he says is priceless. Would've loved if he won the Oscar.

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  2. Great choice. It's not the loudest or flashiest of scenes but it has a quiet innocence to it that hides Damon's character's true self.

    I agree with Nikhat though that any scene featuring Wahlberg was great.

    You've made me want to watch the film again.

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    1. Thanks man! Your comment about Damon's character is spot on, that's exactly what I was driving at. He really does seem like a nice guy (or at least that he's capable of kindness), but he's actually a murdering narcissist.

      I rewatched the flick last night and remain blown away by it. Just perfect.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. That is a good scene. It's one of those more subtle moments of the film that I think is underrated.

    BTW, who do you prefer as Scorsese's cinematographer? Michael Ballhaus or Robert Richardson?

    I prefer Ballhaus. Nothing against Richardson but I feel like Ballhaus doesn't overdo things in the lighting while keeping things much simpler.

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    1. Oh man that is such a tough call. I think I like Richardson's body of work more, but for Scorsese's films, I too prefer Ballhaus. Richardson is definitely harsh with lighting (which worked well for Casino), but I think Ballhaus' style suits the majority of Scorsese's films better.

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  4. If L.A Confidential, from an entire cast perspective was the most well-acted drama of the 90's (as I believe), then The Departed holds the mantle for the 00's.

    Farmiga was just a delight, the heart of the film, and that third still you've put in captures her essence perfectly. What vulnerability and intelligence she has!

    Leo (should have got an Oscar for this - and wasn't even nominated!!), Damon, Jack, Wahlberg, Baldwin, Sheen, Winstone and more.

    A top ten of all time movie for me, and you've picked a wonderful scene Alex.

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    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Cam!

      L.A Confidential is just perfect, isn't it? Flawlessly acted from the leads to the day players. Just bliss.

      I'm so glad you specifically mentioned that third still in the post, that is EXACTLY why I chose it. That is her character. I agree that Leo should've won for this (his work here is so superior to Blood Diamond, in my opinion). Damn shame!

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    2. Every word you've written there makes me nod my head in vigorous agreement!

      I watch LA once a year, and can always find something else to draw my attention. I've often said that while Kim Basinger deserved her Oscar recognition, she was one of the (comparitively) weaker performances!

      BD was great, and Leo was great in it, but not a patch on his work in The Departed. Shunned again for Django as well, we pin our hopes on The Great Gatsby for him to get what he richly deserves. The best actor in work today.

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    3. Nice! I too agree that Basinger is one of the (comparatively) weaker roles in that film. I really love Pearce's work in that movie. Such a great arc.

      Oh man, I really hope Gatsby is good. I think it could go either way. I'm more gunning for Leo's work in The Wolf on Wall Street. Back with ol' Marty.

      Did you hear that Leo said he's taking a "long long break from acting"? Serious bummer.

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    4. Good call with Gatsby, Luhrmann can certainly divide an audience. At least we know Leo and Mulligan will knock it out of the park.

      I hadn't seen that quote, wow that is a downer. If it is to be so, then let's hope The Wolf is everything that it could and should be.

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    5. Yeah I'm really banking on Gatsby and The Wolf being good. Then I think will have to slug through a good two years before we see Leo on the screen again.

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  5. Fantastic choice. This is one of the most memorable scenes for me too. It's a quick exchange, but it really stands out.

    Don't know how I left this off my top 100. I'll have to fix that with the next update.

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    1. Nice man, glad you dig the scene. Short but very very effective for the characters.

      The movie as a whole is so damn good. Look forward to checking out your revised Top 100!

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  6. Awesome scene! I also love their date (the dessert, the flirting, the Freud stuff) very funny and playful.

    I love the little love triangle in this movie - the way Colin interacts with Madolyn compared to the way Billy interacts with her. Kind of heartbreaking in that it should be completely the other way around.

    Love The Departed. Good stuff, Alex.

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    1. Thanks man! Their date is also exceptional. It just feels like a date, or at least a date that is going really well. Ha.

      And you're right, the triangle dynamics should be the other way around, and I think that's what makes the movie so good. In part, anyway.

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  7. That such an awesome seen and they have incredibly effortless chemistry here. I love how he keeps apologizing to people in the elevator for holding the door opened :)

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    1. I love that too! He's just so smooth and, you're right, effortless. They banter so well off each other.

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  8. Great scene! They're more like moments than scenes, but here's two;

    1. Ray Winstone (who I swear gets more and more English as the film goes on, but is still viscerally brilliant) killing his wife in the briefest of flashbacks. (Scorsese and violence? Can't go wrong.)
    2. Alec Baldwin declares “I’m gonna go have a smoke right now. You want a smoke? You don’t smoke, do ya, right? What are ya, one of those fitness freaks, huh? Go fuck yourself.”

    Wahlberg's good for that sort of thing too. Great swearing in this movie. And violence. Swearing and violence.

    (artistically it has some worth too. haha.)

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    1. hahaha guess which fucking film I'm re-watching now. one of the greatest opening sequences of all time.

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    2. Oh those are two perfect moments. "Yeah... she got reliable."

      And pretty much everything Baldwin and Wahlberg say in that flick is just priceless. "I think you are a cop, my son."

      Brilliant flick.

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    3. Nice! I love how the title card takes like 18 minutes to show up. Just BAM!

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  9. The wit and the dialogue in The Departed is indeed awesome. There are several great scenes in the film but my favorite, by far, was the "cellphone" scene when Matt Damon and DiCaprio's character finally face each other in a weird sort of way.
    One of my favorite films of all time.

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    1. Oh man that is a classic sequence right there. I love how there are no words, just ringtones and heightened sound effects. Very Hitchcock, very De Palma. Good call!

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  10. Great write-up - I love this film and you're totally right, it's directed very much like that dizzying scene from Goodfellas. My favourite bit in The Departed is probably when the Dropkick Murphys kicks in and it does that slow pan through the prison; I can't even really explain why but it just gives me this adrenaline rush that sticks with me 'til the end of the film.

    I should watch this again.

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    1. Thanks man! Oh dude you don't need to explain yourself, that slow prison pan is awesome. The Murphys cue up, the title card jumps on, and we know we're in Scorsese heaven. Love that moment.

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  11. It's a terrific film. One of my favorite Scorsese films actually.

    The scene that always sticks out in my memory is the one when DiCaprio gets a unfortunate bullet. When I first saw it, it came as such a surprise. But it does reflect the sort of dark wit you mention that permeates through the film and even into Scorsese's manipulation of the audience. He shocks and surprises with that scene while playing on the fact he's just killed off the film's star (if it was Spielberg we'd have John Williams' violins out and a long protracted final breath!).

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    1. Nice, definitely one of my favorite Scorsese films as well. I love its energy.

      Ha shit, your mention of Spielberg and Williams literally made me laugh out loud, because you're so right. If The Departed is one thing, it's completely unsentimental. You get killed, you move on. Baby on the way? Fuck it, walk away. Its coldness really is refreshing.

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  12. I think I've said it before how the actors and the script perfectly convey how language is used (or abused as one could say...) especially the profanity. You picked an interesting scene, because in those 80 secs, I believe it shows the main idea of piece. Because it's not the strongest story or plot-wise from Scorsese, but that's not the point. The story is just a thin thread to get characters to interact with each other who wouldn't normally even know each other. The result is as schizophrenic, darkly humorous and spontaneous as the city itself. With Jack giving his, perhaps, last great performance, it is worth it just for his south-end gangster Castello.

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    1. Damn Jeff, couldn't have said it better myself. Agree wholeheartedly with everything in your comment. The movie is one extended schizophrenic binge, of sorts. And that is pricelessly why I love it. Everyone went all in here, in their own respective way.

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  13. Bookmarking this post for after I see the movie.

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    1. Nice. Can't wait to hear what you think.

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  14. well put, a lot of it had to do with vera farmiga's aacting skill, very subtle yet sublime. she's a great actress. very underrated but.

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    1. Thanks. I completely agree, Farmiga is a hell of a talent and this scene is what it is because of her subtlety. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  15. So many amazing scenes to chose from in this film, I know my Dad would go for the Nicholson monologue at the start, and I'd probably go for the scene in which Baldwin and Wahlberg have that amazing back and forth. But I'm glad you picked a scene with Vera Farmiga, I think she gives the best performance in this film and is often overlooked for the bigger names

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    1. Those are two great sequences you pointed out. Both so memorable for different reasons. Nicholson is such a beast in that intro, so so powerful.

      I'm glad you're such a fan of Farmiga's work in this movie. She really held her own (and then some) against the heaviest of players. Great stuff.

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    2. Her performance in this made me seek out a couple more of her films, Running Scared which she was great in despite the film being good but unspectacular and Down to the Bone by Debra Granik in which she was utterly flawless.

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    3. Down to the Bone is an amazing film. Farmiga gives one of the best acting performances I've ever seen there. Just so very good. Love that movie.

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  16. This movie is a goddamn mash of masterpieces! Singling them out is difficult.

    Still,
    1. Wahlberg briefing officers about crime. Just sheer delight seeing him mix profanity with facts and present them in as-is style. Amazing sequence!
    2. When the hitman catches Leo as a mole but is too wasted to reveal it...that scene made me gasp literally.
    3. Shrink clinic - Natural flow, stellar performance by Leo.
    4. The climax - just when you think that oh god, he has scot free....BAM! Justice...incredibly intense action at the end.

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    1. Love those scenes. I'm a little confused by your number 2 though. You mean the guy who gives Leo the wrong address, but doesn't say anything because he's an undercover cop too?

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