Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and “Goodfella’s” are two films depicting inner workings of mob families. In 1990 “Goodfella’s” introduced us to the Italian mob, whereas in 2006 “The Departed” let us into the world of the Irish mob. I will be comparing and contrasting both of these Oscar winning film’s characters, moral ideologies, and symbolic use of lighting and color themes. Splashes of “The Godfather” are used as an outside reference still within in the genre.
Henry Hill’s first line, “As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster.” Show’s us that he is smitten by the dishonest life he has. He goes on to say, “To me being a gangster was better than being the president of the United States.” Reveals he desire for power. Henry believes he is above the law much like The Departed’s Collin Sullivan. These characters clash with The Departed's Billy Costigan who, like Henry was somewhat exposed to this lifestyle at a young age, in turn denounced it. Billy wanted to be a cop, a good guy, against his father’s side of the family’s wishes. Slight echoes of a young Michael Corleone reside in Billy (Michael originally didn’t want to be his father and joined the military to be honorable).
Henry Hill and Collin Sullivan conclude their stories the same way. They both feel betrayed by their ‘families’ and choose the side of the law. Neither character made this decision with morality in mind they were only looking out for themselves. Collin found out Frank was an informant and could rat him out. Henry knew Jimmy the Gent was planning to kill him and pauly turned his back on him. Neither character grew or changed. Collin worried about covering his trail and cleaning out the people who knew his dealings. Henry now in witness protection made in clear he hates it and still wants the wise guy life.
Goodfellas love interest Karen is a weak woman at heart. She is well aware of Henry’s shady dealings in both his loyalty to her and his business dealings but she stays. She doesn’t have her own life and career so she helps Henry with his and becomes a coke addict in the process. The Departed’s leading lady Madelyn Madden is the opposite. She’s an independent woman with a career as a doctor. She is the un-loyal lover in this case and is completely oblivious to her boyfriend’s (Collin Sullivan) illegal dealings. Unlike Karen, Madelyn has the self-respect to leave her boyfriend after she finds out how immoral he really is.
Pauly Cicero as a leader has an heir of calmness about him. He doesn’t get involved in drugs and forbids his guys to touch them either, Much like Don Corleone. The Departed’s Frank Costello contrasts heavily with this mentality. Frank is all for the sales and use of cocaine. He is also not as loyal or patient a leader as his formers; he’s an FBI informant! Mentally he has stability slightly better than Tommy’s. Neither one of them feel uncomfortable getting up close with their killings or sporting their blood soaked attire in front of people afterwards. Tommy and Frank are hot headed and impulsive, they represent The Godfather’s Sonny Corleone character of their films.
Scorsese created the feel of both Goodfellas and The Departed with shadowed scenes and use of color gels to portray the symbolic color themes enhanced by the sets, wardrobe, and even props. In The Departed, Collin Sullivan sits in his office at the police station. Half his face is seen in light, the other half in the shadows. This scene’s lighting portrays his character perfectly. As he sits there he plays both sides. He tells the officers he sent out to stay put on the radio. Why? His mob partners are in the building because he sent them there as well. The officers tell him some one fell off the building and he still won’t let them move. He remains in this lighting as he hears gunfire and shouting. Once Captain McQueen’s blood is on Sullivan’s hands he stands up and shut off his light now the scene is dark. It’s made obvious who he is as a person and where his loyalties lie with this lighting more so than with his carefully planned words.
The color red (symbolizing blood) dominates Goodfellas. We meet Henry Hill, Tommy, and Jimmy Conway basking in red light. We can feel what kind of men they are before they even open the trunk to kill Billy Bats. The color blue, (as in the boys in blue) dominated The Departed allowing red, when seen at random intervals to stand out boldly. It’s representing the corruption that lies just beneath the surface of those who ‘protect and serve’. In Goodfellas we expect the red, gangsters equate to blood in our minds the only shock would be the fact that they in their own way and for the right people do protect and serve. The colors seem to provide transitions for the characters. Henry and Karen first meet in a restaurant draped in red and Karen stands out wearing blue. The date is going bad, as Karen stares off we notice the red table lamp set directly in front of her chest. The next time we see Karen she is dressed in red, her demeanor is heated and powerful. She has no shame in hunting him down and yelling at him in front of the boys. This gets her what she wants, a better date. He takes her to the Copacabana club which we tour the massive amount of red crates, curtains and walls of it’s interior via long shot.
In The Departed, Billy Costigan is a cop playing a gangster. His transitions for each roll lies in who calls him. His personal cell the station calls him on is blue, and when his gangster calls come in, it’s his red cell phone that rings. He keeps them in separate pockets and when he’s at home he makes it a point to keep them spaced out from each other on the table.
Collin Sullivan seems to disguise himself not only with his badge, but also by surrounding himself with the color blue. His clothing, and even his blue eyes make him seem innocent. He painted bedroom dark blue and his front room is light blue. However, in his death scene we see the hallway has huge red X’s on the carpet leading to his apartment door. On the other side of his door is Detective Digham, (who was always a good cop and never trusted Collins) waiting to kill him. Digham is dressed in nothing but blue, even his rubber gloves and his bottie slippers. When Billy Dies (wearing blue) he is shot in the head. His blood flies back as he falls forward, so the red never touches the blue.
Frank Costello has a scene bathed in red light. His eyes are wide and crazy as he tosses cocaine around the room laughing. This scene alone shows what both Goodfellas and The Departed depict as the fall of the organizations. Drug use and or evolvement aids in the demise of the families.
Henry and Jimmy’s cocaine business, mixed with Henry’s addiction lead them to be under surveillance, arrested, and finally turn against each other. After Collin found out Frank was an informant all he needed was a way to pick him up red handed. The frequent coke user and dealer were easy to bring down with his big cocaine pick up. Don Corleone clearly stated he wanted nothing to do with drugs dealings. He thought it was dirty, easy to get caught with, and a high risk factor when it came to keeping ties with influential political partners. Ironically it was his denouncement of drug evolvement that led to ‘a war of families’ for the Corleones. All three of these films portray how drugs further corrupt the corrupt, and disrupt the organization.
Similarities and differences aside, I conclude if one were to lie out Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and The Departed with it’s fellow Oscar winner in the genre, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, it could be viewed as a time line for organized crime. The Godfather as the original and somewhat suave concept of family loyalty and protection. It’s as moralized as a crime organization could be, almost a romanticized tragedy. It’s descendant’s in Goodfellas still had those ‘values’ being preached at the top of the chain of command, it’s the underlings who lack the same respect. Those members, aside from the Irish factor, become The Departed’s depiction of the mob. All sense of loyalty and respect is gone. The old rules no longer apply, using and selling drugs is now acceptable, and killing the chief of police instead of paying him is fine now too. Frank isn’t the organized leader that Don and even Pauly were. Frank is what happens when cocky hot heads like Tommy or even Sonny Corleone inherit leadership.