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An Open Letter to C. Matthew, Re: The Departed

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Dear Confused Matthew,

With all due respect, sir, I disagree.

I was under the impression I’d said all that was necessary about Martin Scorsese’s The Departed in my own review of the film. However, your recent embarkation upon an anti-Departed tirade has inspired me to go a little more in depth on the film. I will admit, the dialog which makes up the bulk of what grabs your attention is filled with non-sequitors and profanity, and this may be something of a turn-off or make the film seem unsofisticated.

There is, however, context to the story that makes this apparent verbal diharrea make sense.

Now, I’m aware of the fact that I could simply be reading too much into the events of The Departed. I may also be making a mountain out of a molehill and what follows could be construed as me doning white armor to ride to the rescue of a filmmaker and/or screenwriter who need no rescuing. However, as someone who regularly hands himself a severe beating for telling instead of showing and fancies himself a storyteller of at least some merit, I’d like to talk about Sergeant Dingham and how his character is more than he might seem.

The sheer amount of bluster this career cop dispenses at any given moment can be off-putting at the very least, and most of the time is geared to be antagonistic. Dingham goes out of his way to appear uninterested in making friends or even being easy to work with. If you were to take him strictly at face value and invests zero time in actually getting to know him a little bit rather than succumbing feelings of confusion or hostility, he’d push you away faster than a six-foot-wide bouncer minding the backstage door at a LMFAO concert. Wait, sorry, Maroon 5. I get those two confused sometimes.

The fact is, however, it’s all a front. In a story where people are not who they appear to be, anybody with more than a few lines that rises above cameo status is going to show at least some dicotomy. Leo & Matt’s characters are the biggest examples, Jack Nicholson plays a charismatic crime boss who’s quietly going crazy and growing increasingly bored with his own bullshit a la Scarface, and the chief appears to be a hard-nosed no-nonsense type who thinks nothing of opening his home to someone who’d get him killed if they were seen talking for more than two seconds. As for Dingham, under the gruff and razor-sharp exterior is a man who cares very deeply about the men under his command. A few lines at the end of his first scene with Leo, his reaction to a federal demand for knowledge of undercover officers and the look on his face at the movie’s end are all you need to discern who he really us under all the swearing and swagger. It’s showing, not telling.

Most of this is gleaned from seeing these men in different situations and how they react to certain stimuli, not just letting their dialog fill up our ears without allowing things to process. Writers and critics can bang on and on about the merits of showing over telling but without a good example it can be difficult to illustrate. The Departed has got a very good one. Instead of the Star Wars prequels where characters spout emotion in boldface or The Matrix sequels where true human motivation is lost in hyperbole and post-structuralist drivel, this film has a measure of depth to it. However, the waters are so dark and populated with such predatory creatures that it seems you’ve walked away dismissing the entire affair in the same vein you have the aforementioned cinematic abortions. You’ve even fallen into your trademark habit of attacking the screenwriter by acting in a condescending manner and taking refuge in low-brow derogatory humor, just as I did two paragraphs ago.

This is unfortunate, but we’re all entitled to our opinions.

I don’t want to give the impression that you looking at The Departed‘s very visceral and emotional storytelling and declaring it an over-reactionary profane mess is by any means wrong. You can interpret any film you watch or any entertainment you enjoy any way you like. That’s the beauty of having your own mind and your own opinion. It’s just an interpretation I disagree with. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to be some sort of film snob who thinks every single film or novel or video game has to have deep intellectual meaning. I certainly don’t play the games Section 8 or League of Legends for their stories, and I don’t believe Thor or Bunraku have any sort of lasting life lessons to teach or any commentary on the human condition to provoke lingering thought, yet I enjoy them. It’s simply that when I see a storytelling endeavor that plays just as much beneath the surface as it does on top of it, and only the surface is taken to have value while the rest is seemingly ignored, I feel a disservice is being done and a counterpoint should be made.

I hope that you found this counterargument at least interesting, and if not I’m sure it will be quickly forgotten. I’d like to think I made something resembling a point. Despite my disagreement with you on this film, I admire you for the consistency of your material and your fascinating discussions on philosophy and while I may not always agree with what you say, I applaud you for having the balls to say it.

I wish you nothing but the best in your future productions & endeavors.

Sincerely,
The Blue Ink Alchemist

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