The Departed: Movie That I Love, and You Should Too

The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, is one of the greatest movies produced in the 2000s. Possibly ever. The film is a crime drama set in Boston. An undercover state cop has infiltrated an Irish gang and tries to disrupt the operation. The mobsters themselves have a rat within the police department, and the entire film is centered on the two sides. I hope you enjoyed that “Cliff notes” version of such an incredible film. This film is one of the greatest for two distinct reasons: the acting, the writing.

Leonardo Dicaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, Ray
Winstone, Anthony Anderson, and Martin Sheen make up an impeccable cast. Should I even bother continuing? Are you still reading this? No? You’re watching the movie now? Ok, good.

Dicaprio, Nicholson, and Wahlberg were nominated for Golden Globes for their acting, and the entire cast was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. I can’t name one other film I’ve seen that I remember more than five of the actors’ names. The Departed, however, displays these notable actors at their best. And they are memorable. This cast is full of professionals, that which isn’t disputed, but if you are not left in awe at the end of this film you are a soulless, unappreciative slug. These actors have it easy; however, they were given an incredible story.

The screen writing for this film is likewise phenomenal. What make a great story are great characters, and The Departed is not lacking by any means in this category. Instead of telling you the story itself, I’m going to tell you the effect it will have on you. I cannot give it away; it’s not fair to you. This story will move you and it will make you appreciate the history behind the story. It is a true story about an Irish gang, and the way William Monahan brings these characters to life is beyond the simple story. The complexity of the plot will keep you scratching your head, but the intensity will keep you wanting more like an unfamiliar fruit. I’m not comparing the film to modern-day art, but instead, the film represents an early form of storytelling unfamiliar to audiences. It challenges the idea of story structure and forces you to ride a motorcycle before you’ve tackled training wheels.

Darwin once said that “it’s not the survival of the strongest or the most intelligent, it’s the ones most adaptable to change” that are most successful. Art and film are susceptible to change. We live in an ever-changing world. Monahan, Scorsese, and this cast are all present-day Darwin’s. They are our lens into what we want to know of a story. They provide us with a story, a film that represents an emotion that is unique to the viewer.

The film is above entertainment. It is the unknown and it is intangible. But art is the unknown; art is the antidote for quiet desperation. This film is art, and a solace for deep thought for those that want to escape.

The Greatest Film Scene Ever (*Not Up For Debate)

Pulp Fiction
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Won– Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Nominated-Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Travolta), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Samuel L. Jackson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Uma Thurman), Best Director (Tarantino), Best Film Editing (Sally Menke)

The scene embedded above is the last scene of Pulp Fiction, a film by Quentin Tarantino. This scene is also the greatest. Ever. I’m not saying the scene is the greatest in this film, but rather, the greatest scene ever, in any movie, ever. It is important, however, to understand the context of the film before you watch the clip. For thematic reasons, this scene doesn’t make much sense until you’ve seen the film in its entirety. For an abundance of reasons this scene is unparalleled including its cinematography, acting, the story/script development, lighting, historical perspective, and sound aspects.

What makes a film more aesthetically pleasing than others is its adherence to certain cinematographic principles. This scene has a plethora of different camera angles that highlight perspective and authority among the characters. The different angles also help keep the viewers interested. The colors are vibrant. Color variation is played with throughout the film, and here we see a variety of colors (e.g. Ringo’s Hawaiian shirt, Jules’ blue shirt, Yolanda’s purple shirt, and the orange seats in the diner) that add to the brightness of the scene’s intensity and the film’s colorful language. Another principle that is unspoken but contributes to a cinematically “good” scene, is the rule-of-thirds. While we only subconsciously appreciate the adherence to the rule-of- thirds, this scene does as good a job as any at applying this rule.

Moreover, It is no surprise that this film was nominated for its acting. In this last scene, Samuel L. Jackson makes viewers believe that he has changed as a character and as a person. Watch this film and I guarantee you will lose yourself in the realness of the fictitiousness. During this scene, nothing else exists beyond the walls of the diner because the scene is that believable. Where Jackson showed growth, John Travolta showed consistency. It is an intense scene but credit is due to Travolta’s congruent nature. He never sways out of character (and neither does Ringo or Yolanda). It is clear Tarantino had the whip out during rehearsals because this scene is flawless.

I’m not arguing perfection here, but the reason this scene, above others, is so memorable is because of its relevance to the story and plot structure of the film. The film begins in the same diner with Ringo and Yolanda planning to rob the restaurant of all its money. It ends here as well. The brilliance of this film is its intertwining stories. Different characters from different stories never meet-until the end-but their stories are always connected somehow. What is most important is how Samuel L. Jackson’s character can help Ringo through a difficult time. Two people that were never meant to meet. Or maybe they were? This film is about Samuel L. Jackson’s (Jules) transformation as a character in a period of American nihilism. This scene displays just that. And it is beautiful.

Moving on to more technical aspects of the film: lighting and sound. These two I’m clumping into one category because they are similar. Similar in how they can negatively affect a film, that is. If a scene has poor lighting it can be hard to see what is happening. If a scene has poor audio than it can be difficult to hear what is happening. Both of which can detract from the enjoyment of a film. Tarantino uses light specifically as a metaphor (in the briefcase), or to convey emotion in someone’s eyes (shadows on Ringo’s face represent his lack in understanding or knowledge). There is no music playing in this scene. Ambient background noise is all. However, the tone in which characters speak is representative of their mood. Jules talks calmly and slowly to Ringo, trying to guide him towards “the light.”

Lastly, the historical perspective of the film is quite significant in understanding the meaning of the story. This plot is set in late 20th century America where people, in this case, Travolta and Jackson, make sense out of their lives through pop culture icons like a Quarter Pounder. Life is stricken by an inherent belief that life has lost all value and meaning. This film is about violence and redemption at life. Redemption can be earned or given, but nevertheless, it is liberating. It is evident Jules is dealing with issues of self-purpose, which further elucidates why this last scene is the greatest. It is satisfyingly complete, like a good sneeze, or finishing a puzzle, or a tasty Quarter Pounder with cheese. That kind of satisfying.

The Shawshank Redemption Beat Sheet: Snyder Style

The Blake Snyder “Beat Sheet” (aka BS2) for: The Shawshank Redemption

Director: Frank Darabont

I am going to spoil this movie for those that haven’t seen it. So as a precautionary: if you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, please stop here. On the same note, if you haven’t seen this film, than there is no place for you in society. Leave.

And for those unfamiliar with the idea of a “Beat Sheet,” enlighten yourself before continuing:

Opening ImageA visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.

The film begins with a dark setting. Andy Dufresne, the main character, the hero so-to-speak, sits alone in his car. It is dark out. He is drinking-already intoxicated- looking into the distance at a small house while a hand gun sits on his lap. We are serenaded by the Ink Spots and the sad, sad blues. This opening image sets the stage for a dark, and heavy film.

Set-upExpand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

We cut to a court room where Andy is being questioned by an attorney. He claims his innocence to the murder of his wife and her lover, both were killed the night Andy was sitting in his car outside their house. The judge sentences Andy to “two life sentences,” one for each victim. However, we are left wondering, did he actually kill them?

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

The theme of this film, as stated in the set-up, is the idea and act of crime. What I mean by this is Andy is sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit, and his wife is accused of infidelity. A pattern of crimes becomes a recurring theme or motif, like that of solidarity and imprisonment, throughout the film.

Catalyst The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.

Andy is sent to prison and spends his first night in the cell. Life as it is definitely changes. Andy meets Red, another prominent character, among others that will shape his life at Shawshank Prison.

Debate But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.

A group of homosexuals at Shawshank, known as the Sisters, antagonized Andy for two straight years. They cornered him and beat him up, insinuated sexual favors. Andy never obliged, however, he was given a fair share of bruises. To the point where it is unclear whether he could survive life in prison.

Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two)The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.

Andy befriends the guards while tarring the prison roof by informing the Captain at Shawshank how to save $35,000 without the IRS getting involved. The Captain is appreciative of this favor and allows Andy and his friends some ice-cold beers. Red, Andy, they feel normal again, if only for a second. Andy’s journey now begins as a financial officer for the Warden and the Captain. And so begins Act Two.

B StoryThis is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.

The motif of crime returns. The B-Story of this film is a double-edged sword: Red smuggling goods for Andy, and Andy laundering money for the Warden. Both are crooks by definition, but both of these sub-plots move the story forward and ultimately give Andy hope at salvation.

The Promise of the Premise This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Andy builds the prison a new library. He maintains a professional and respectable relationship with the Warden, and it seems that he has not only accepted his new life, but thrived as an inmate at Shawshank. Andy is no Indiana Jones, his journey to escape is clandestine, even the audience is oblivious. But the premise is there, none the less.

MidpointDependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Andy is satisfied with the library and with his relationship with the fellow inmates. He is even teaching some of them to read/write, and has helped them receive a high school diploma equivalent.

Bad Guys Close InDoubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

Andy discovers, from the help of new inmate Tommy, that he is in fact innocent and the man who killed his wife is behind bars in another prison. When Andy takes this news to the Warden for help, the Warden sentences Andy to soldiery confinement for a month. Essentially live in a black pit of darkness the size of a dog cage. Oh, I almost forgot, the Warden also killed Tommy and threatened to end Andy’s life if he objects to continuing business with the Warden’s sketchy finances.

All is LostThe opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Andy has no choice but to obey the Warden’s orders. He goes back to keeping the Warden’s financial books and there is no promise or gratification in this practice.

Dark Night of the SoulThe main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Quite similar to the “All is Lost” beat, this is where Andy realizes the Warden will kill him at the drop of a pin or whenever he sees fit. After ordering Tommy’s execution it becomes clear the Warden has no soul, and Andy is, as Snyder so eloquently puts it, “wallowing in hopelessness.”

Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three)Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Andy and Red talk about Mexico here and Andy utters the most memorable quote of the film, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Andy regains the hope of escape and formulates his plan.

FinaleThis time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

This is arguably the best part of the movie, aside from Morgan Freeman’s voice overs, the Warden closes in on Andy. I won’t explain this scene in profound detail because I want you to watch it, so long as I haven’t spoiled the entire film already. Essentially the Warden is on his way to Andy’s cell, rendering up some form of punishment in his head, upon hearing the news that he is missing. Andy has escaped, and has committed his last crime.

Final Imageopposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

Opposite the dark and ominous the beginning, the final image pictures both Andy and Red on the beach in Mexico, embracing, happy, bright. Andy has his skiff. Red has freedom. All is well.

Now go watch the damn movie.