Every week, we bring you a classic film that deserves your unbridled attention once more. As part of Netflix Flashback, we blow away the cobwebs and pick out an oft-forgotten piece of cinematic brilliance, this week we’re picking out one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest efforts The Departed.
The Departed is the film that finally earned Scorsese the elusive Best Director prize at the Academy Awards. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen among others, the film uncovers the corrupt roots of public institutions such as the police and the mob.
Scorsese said: “I hardly did any press for that film. I was tired of it. I felt it was maddening. I mean, I like the picture but the process of making it, particularly in the post-production, was highly unpleasant. I said, ‘I don’t care how much I’m being paid, it’ll kill me. I’ll die. Very simply.’”
The Departed was one of the most self-indulgently violent thrillers of 2006 With a star-studded cast, the Martin Scorsese mob movie held no prisoners. Its success was largely down to William Monohan’s expertly balanced script. But according to Damon, Nicholson wasn’t content being given the coolest lines page after page; he wanted to take his character, Frank Costello, to an even darker place.
Reflecting on the film during the WTF podcast with Marc Maron, Damon recalled how the pair bonded over their shared love of writing. Matt, let’s not forget, wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting with Ben Affleck. During the first rehearsal of The Departed, Nicholson also confessed that he “‘never would have made it this far if I wasn’t a great f***ing writer.’” He suggested a number of sinister re-writes: “The scene was one-eighth of a page,” Damon recalled. “It said, ‘Costello executes a man kneeling in the marsh.’ That’s all it said,” Damon went on to add that most actors would have been relieved for such a small scene in what is a long film. Not Nicholson.
“Jack was so excited and said [to me], ‘Wait until you hear what I did,’” Damon continued. “He goes, ‘Well, it was an eighth of a page,’ and he goes, ‘I’ve seen that before, so what I did is I made it a woman … and I put Ray [Winston] in the scene with me.’ He goes, ‘We’re gonna keep in this same shot, I’m not gonna add any time or money to the schedule. But I shoot her in the back of the head, and she falls over. Now, you could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, I turn to Ray and I say, ‘Geez, she fell funny.’ Now, that’s a very sinister line. It suggests that I’ve done this before. There’s a way that people fall.’”
Sinister indeed, but it gets worse: “‘Now you could end the scene there,’” Damon remembered Nicholson telling him, “‘but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray reveals an axe that he’s holding behind his back. He’s gonna chop her up. So Ray starts to step forward. Now you could end the scene there, but if you leave the camera rolling, I say, ‘Wait, I think I wanna f— her again.’ Now that’s a very sinister line.’”
Damon was clearly pretty stunned: “I’m like, ‘Jesus,’” he said. But Nicholson had more to add. “‘You could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray gives me a look and after a long pause, I go, ‘Ahhhhh!’ Like I’ve got him,’” Nicholson told Damon. “‘Now, you could keep the camera rolling, Ray says to me, ‘Francis, you really ought to see somebody.’”
It was these kinds of moments that peppered the production of the film and turned The Departed into one of the best films of the decade, effortlessly confirming Scorsese as a true auteur and one of the greatest directors of all time.