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    “The Departed” Movie Review (3040 words)

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    This research paper focuses on the many influencing factors that persuade people, particularly youth, to join gangs. Many factors tend to be more relevant during the beginning of a child’s life and those tend to be the harder to overcome. There have been many proven theories for criminal behavior starting at an early age. Family is the most prominent influencer because immediate family are those who teach kids their morals and beliefs.

    It also focuses on mental disorders gang members and officers tend to experience after undergoing traumatic events. Many of these disorders are overlooked and not taken seriously. The main disorder I focused on within this research paper is PTSD because it is the most noted disorder. This disorder is very serious and can cause long term misbehavior and anxiety.

    Also discussed in this paper is the advancements in technology used in organized crime. These advancements can be used by both gangs and law enforcement. Communication is often used to advance and expand affiliation with gang members. Many gangs around America are spread all over the country. Law enforcement uses this technology advancements as well but mostly for surveillance usage.


    “I don’t want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me” -Frank Costello. Costello, a leader of the Irish mob in south Boston, was an unapologetically raciest who hated African Americans. During this time the police were at war with the Irish-American mob because of their participation in organized crime. There are many key factors that influence gang members to joining a gang and committing to street life. Some come from criminal families that influence them to follow in their footsteps. They may also feel they have a point to prove, or they may lack knowledge/common sense.

    Directors Main Focus

    The director, Martin Scorsese, primary focus in this movie was to address “moles” within street gangs. “Moles” in the terms of a gang refers to someone who is used as an informant to the benefit of law enforcement. However, in this movie informants were used on both sides of the fence. The line drawn between cop and criminal disappears in this film. Billy Costigan who comes from a criminal family works in favor of law enforcement. He joins Costello’s gang in order to inform law enforcement of moves the gang is apprehending. However, Sullivan is Costello’s informant who is working alongside law enforcement to obtain information that will help the gang. In this case each informant shows a different aspect of snitching whether it be to help law enforcement or to hinder them.

    The target audience for this film are adults who are fascinated with crime. The reason being is that during this movie you have to really pay attention because it gets tricky defederating who is good and who is bad. The line between good and bad law enforcement does not exist in this film. It makes you question the intentions each character obtains because of their affiliations throughout the film. Costigan is an obvious informant of law enforcement. Sullivan is an obvious informant of the mob. However, the trick at the end is that Costello, the mob leader, was an undercover informant of the FBI’s the whole time.

    I believe this movie has many similarities to the infamous, The Untouchables, American crime movie. In comparison both focus on mobs within rural cities and the crimes that are committed are those of organized crime. Both movies incorporate the corruption and ties between the judicial system and mobs. Both movies also make you question what is considered good and what is considered bad. In many situations the decision made may seem morally wrong however, as an audience member you may side with it due to the certain circumstances. For example, Costigan took part in many illegal activates such as murder. However, it was to the benefit of law enforcement which makes you question if it is right or wrong under these circumstances.

    This movie portrayed the American Irish mob as an ethnic gang. They defined themselves by their race which was Irish. They also hated African Americans and did not let just anyone join. In order to join this gang, you have to be Irish and have ties to someone who is involved with the gang. The daily lifestyle of those within this gang was not that exciting. They assaulted people, committed violent crimes, and assassinated people who compromised any of their projects. However, something intriguing about this gang was they ran their gang with far reaching influences and ran it like a business.

    This movie is loosely based on the true story about the infamous FBI informant Whitey Bulger. He was caught in 2011 and was only second to Osama Bin Laden on the FBI’s most wanted list and was listed for a one-million-dollar reward for his capture. Bulger found himself indicted on the count of 11 murders due to his involvement with Boston’s notorious Winter Hill Gang. The investigation also brought forth many dozen corrupted cops and FBI agents.

    In this movie Frank Costello was the leader of the Irish mob who hated African-Americans. He was involved in many illegal activities such as; theft, drug trafficking, and murders. He was very manipulative and had many connections within the FBI. His connections helped people understand how imperative it is within organized crime to utilize different ways of communicating. Costello’s forms of communication made his mob more prominent around the world which helped him expand his mob.

    Many organized crime groups are utilizing different technology techniques. In this case the Internet and surveillance were the main allies for the mob’s success. According to the FBI, “With the increase of technology available around the world, TOC groups are more commonly incorporating cyber techniques into their illicit activities, either committing cybercrimes themselves or using cyber tools to facilitate other unlawful acts.” (website, paragraph 3) In which case you see many of the mobsters communicating through cell phones and thinking of different ways on how to overcome FBI’s plotted surveillance.

    Analyzing the Main Characters

    The main characters of this movie were Sergeant Dignam played by Mark Wahlberg. Billy Costigan played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Frank Costello played by Jack Nicholson. Colin Sullivan played by Matt Damon. Every character except for Sargent Dignam was an informant of some sort and had ties to both mob and FBI. Not all of the informants had bad intentions some were good.

    This movie is also about the identity individuals struggle with when growing up, either due to their background or the circumstances they have created for themselves. According to, “Families can have gang involvement spanning over multiple generations. This is one of the toughest forms of pressure to escape, as the gang lifestyle is deeply rooted in family traditions and values.” (Website, paragraph1) In the case of Costigan he wanted to be more than his criminal family. However, his family was known for committing crimes and being tied up with illegal activity. This limited Costigan from finishing the police academy and created many obstacles throughout his life. One of his toughest obstacles was not being worthy enough to be a trusted as an undercover cop due to his family background. In which Costigan had to prove his intentions and try and earn the respect he was seeking from law enforcement.

    The peer pressure Costigan experienced never deterred him from living an honest life. After several months undercover in the mob he was exposed to many horrific situations but still never settled for the gang lifestyle. However, throughout the movie Costigan can be seen suffering, from what it looks like, posttraumatic stress disorder due to all the violence he encountered from being under cover. According to Wood J. and Dennard S., “Gang membership inherently links to violence, and violent experiences strongly relate to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and paranoia. Yet to date, gang members’ mental health has received little attention, and their paranoia has not been examined.” (website, paragraph 1)In the movie Costigan mentions to his collages that he can’t sleep at night, is always on edge, and has ongoing flashbacks of the events that have occurred while being undercover. Costigan was not taken seriously, as I imagine many gang members are not.

    Sullivan who was affiliated with the mob, and undercover as a cop didn’t struggle as much as Costigan did. Sullivan had a decent upbringing but was not close to his father. Since his father was not present he was constantly looking for someone to fulfill that absence, and that someone was Irish mob leader Frank Costello. According to, “Gangs may present themselves as a means of survival to youth who lack basic relationships and essentials such as food, clothing and shelter.” (website) In the beginning of this movie, it shows Costello shopping at a local store where he meets Sullivan for the first time. Costello hands the young boy money and buys him groceries. After doing this he informs Sullivan that if he ever needs anything to come see him. This was the beginning of their relationship.

    The influence of peer pressure also played a role in Sullivan’s affiliation with the mob. According to, “Kids and teens face constant pressure to fit in, and they may not have the support they need to avoid the pressures to join a gang. Peer pressure can come in the form of intimidation, coercion, a dare, harassment, friendly persuasion, or repetitious begging.” (website, paragraph 5) Sullivan was constantly reminded of the things Costello did for him and his family. Therefore, Sullivan felt that he owed Costello, so he never questioned his authority.

    Sullivan’s strategy to deter his colleges from suspecting he was the corruption within the FBI was dictating all the moves made. Being that Sullivan knew every move the mob made, because of his connections, he would make sure the moves he made were not ones that hindered the Irish mob. He was successful with his strategy until Costigan became an informant inside the mob. His colleges eventually became suspicious of him and that is when all the problems started arising.

    Between these three main characters (Costigan, Sullivan, and Costello) Costigan seems to be more morally correct as far as his undercover crimes go. His loyalty lies with the cops unlike Sullivan. He also on multiple occasions felt uneasy about the crimes he was committing undercover in order to avoid suspicion. There are a couple of scenes where he seems to be losing sight of his morals. However, he still seems to want to get out of the situation because he sees the toll it is taking on him. Sullivan and Costello on the other hand have no remorse for their involvement within the mob and law enforcement.

    There is also Madolyn, who is Sullivan’s girlfriend. She is involved with both Sullivan and Costigan. She is Costigan’s therapist because he is having trouble with accepting certain situations he was involved in while being undercover. He eventually gets involved with Madolyn but it only lasts a short amount of time. At the end of the movie Costigan’s strategy was to inform Madolyn about Sullivan’s double life so that she could expose him for what he truly was. However, this strategy did not play out like he thought it would.

    Many cooperating witnesses law enforcement are involved with are those of previous relationships. According to Richard Valdemar, “The girlfriends and family members of gang members are sometimes motivated to give information in an attempt to protect their loved one.” (website, paragraph 3) In the case of Madolyn she was opposite of this theory. I believe she did not snitch on Sullivan due to fear that she may become the target and may be suspected as far as being involved with the corruption inside the FBI. Since she was both involved with Sullivan and Costigan she would have been an acquaintance in the eyes of law enforcement. She did not snitch on either of them, but she was an important part of their informant web.

    The main focus of law enforcement in this movie was to catch the Irish mob in the act of their illegal events. In doing so they came up with a couple of strategies. However, Costigan was never presented in their plan. Therefore, Sullivan was never fully aware of who the rat was within the mob working alongside the FBI. This worked in Costigan’s advantage because no one suspected him being the rat because of his family’s history and ties with the mob life.


    Many children join gangs because of significant factors within one’s neighborhood, family, school, peers, and home upbringings. In the case of both Sullivan and Costigan these theories present themselves within the movie. These theories could be relevant to their involvement with the mob. These theories conclude; Cloward and Ohlin’s theory, Robert K. Merton (1938) Social Structure and Anomie Theory, and Edwin Sutherlands Theory (1940s).

    Cloward and Ohlin’s theory of delinquency and subculture is explicitly drawing on Merton’s strain theory. This theory suggests that people who have been limited to certain opportunities compared to others tend to turn to delinquency. America tends to stigmatize what the “American Dream” is which in terms is getting an education which will lead you anywhere. However, no one has taken into consideration that our school systems don’t prepare children equally and there are not always enough jobs for educated people.

    According to University of Portsmouth, “Opportunity provides a key variable in Cloward and Ohlin’s theory since they felt that the type of opportunity available would influence whether youths might find themselves able to conform to social expectations or become delinquent.” (website, paragraph 4) Yet this movie did not support that theory. Costigan was pursuing higher education but was denied that right. Instead of him going down a delinquency path and giving up on his dreams he instead proceeded to overcome the obstacles that were in his way.

    Robert K. Merton introduced Strain Theory in 1938 it concluded that Americans were socialized into believing in the “American Dream”. This “American Dream” consist of equal access to goals such as success and material wealth. However equal access does not exist in America, there are strains between the socially encouraged goals of society and the socially acceptable ways to achieve these goals. This creates a stigma and a pressure on realistic goals. According to Examine Boards, “People were socialized into believing that to achieve the American Dream they had to work hard, and they would succeed because the society was a meritocracy. Individuals made various adaptations in response to this strain, some of which were likely to lead to crime.” (website)

    This theory was somewhat of a contradiction within this movie. Sullivan committed crime to be accepted by his peers. Compared to Costigan who only set his goals above his family’s standards. Costigan went against his circumstances and made a better life for himself. However, in order to be accepted by his colleges he had to do some sketchy stuff within the mob. This creates the line where what is not socially acceptable but in some cases is needed to get what you want.

    Another theory by Robert K. Merton is Anomie theory which is, “In Merton’s formulation, anomie becomes the explanation for high rates of deviant behavior in the U.S. compared with other societies, and also an explanation for the distribution of deviant behavior across groups defined by class, race, ethnicity, and the like.” (website, paragraph 3) People of minority have limitations on education and opportunities. This theory could not be analyzed in this movie because minority didn’t exist. Although in the begging of the movie it stated that the Irish mob hated African-Americans there was no supportive information given with in the film. I found this disappointing because if that was stated I would like to see the reasoning behind it.

    Lastly Differential Association Theory by Edwin Sutherland. This theory suggests that, ‘the conditions which are said to cause crime should be present when crime is present, and they should be absent when crime is absent.’ (website, paragraph1) So, if you come from a family that presents a persistency in criminal behavior it is eventually learned that this is an accepted norm in society. This theory ties along well with The Departed but isn’t supported. Costigan’s background did not predict his future success or failure. Despite what Costigan endured during his youth he created his own circumstances without the underline behavior.


    This movie was very interesting it showed many aspects within the criminal justice system and also the gang side as well. Americas faith in the criminal justice system has slowly detreated over the years and this movie supports that theory. We tend to find comfort in thinking that law enforcement is playing by the rules however that is not always the case. There are many opportunities for corruption to appear whether it be financial, reporting, or on the ground responsibilities of law enforcement. I would recommend this movie to criminal justice majors just, so they can see what may be surrounding them during their future endeavors.

    Organized crime is a very interesting subject and I enjoyed seeing the relationship between the American Irish mob. They may seem tight nit but that is to say the least. This movie also showed the corruption that can exist also within the mob itself. Many gang members turn their back on one another in order to create better circumstances for themselves.

    This movie also describes how America treats you due to your family background and what is expected of those who find themselves not as fortunate as others. What you come from shouldn’t define you is the overall message I get from this movie. Costigan did not let his upbringing define what he was going to be. Although on any occasions he found himself being discriminated against. Whenever an obstacle was placed in front of him he always found a way to overcome it and I think that is a very important lesson to learn at an early age.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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