Why Colin Sullivan’s Demise In The Departed Was Both Good and Bad

As a remake of the Hong Kong drama Internal Affairs, Martin Scorsese went back to his gangster roots and made another great feature, The Departed. This was a star-studded feature headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan and Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan: The former is an undercover cop trying to gather more evidence against Frank Costello and the latter was the mole that everyone in the organization was trying to weed out. Fast forward to the third act and Costigan has finally found the snitch within his department and the two men have their big confrontation. Costigan has him dead to rights until his brains are blown out Barrigan, another corrupt officer. After a series of killings that leaves Sullivan as the lone survivor, the snitch has seemingly won the war. With Barrigan dead, police think that he’s the traitor, clearing Sullivan’s name and the last trace back to him as a shady officer. Then, Sullivan meets his fate at the hands of Sgt. Dignam; The hard-nosed detective who wasn’t best friends with Costigan but knew the truth and served out his own brand of justice by putting the final bullet inside Sullivan’s head. The big bad is beaten and all is right in the world. Now, in theory, this is the way it should be. Movies are a diversion of life, basically an exaggerated view of reality. In truth, we want the good guys to win by completing their journey; however, sometimes, that doesn’t happen.

Costigan did fulfill his goal. Find the rat and takedown Frank Costello. While he had no part in bringing Frank to justice, he found the mole and was moments away from a giant victory until his tragic death. This is a sad moment because Scorsese does an excellent job with Costigan’s character before his untimely demise. He’s a damaged soul living in a corrupted world. The brutal crimes and the constant threats of exposure haunt the undercover police officer who’s simply trying to do right within the world. He’s a flawed human being who has his heart in the right place. Costigan’s death was a reminder that he lived in a cruel world and that death could happen at any time. The build-up to that surprise moment was great and Costigan’s murder was a shocking but earned moment. It’s earned because he lives in a violent world and as I previously mentioned, death could happen at any time.

That leaves Colin Sullivan. Did he deserve to die? In the beginning, Sullivan was a clean and well-mannered kid who was taken under the wing of Costello. Sullivan is pretty much the very definition of a two-face snake; He’ll happily smile and have drinks with you, but he doesn’t have any problems putting a bullet in your head if it benefits his selfish needs. Sullivan turning on Barrigan made complete sense. He was in the middle of a giant mess that couldn’t be cleaned up. His only out was to pin the blame on Barrigan. Sullivan is the big bad in The Departed because he’s truly the master pulling the strings. Frank’s true colors is well known to everyone. He’s a ruthless killer and psychopath. Sullivan is the charming thief in the entire scenario. He fits into normal society because he’s seemingly a perfect role model for his organization. He’s the more dangerous of the two because Sullivan can easily charm his way into any situation and screw you over without the victim suspecting anything suspicious beforehand. Sullivan’s demise was well earned. He’s a selfish prick who never feels any remorse for the ones he’s hurt. The only negative is that it isn’t exactly clear how Dignam knows the truth in regard to who Sullivan is. Is it believable that he would kill Sullivan instead of taking him to jail? Definitely. It also makes sense that Dignam would be suspicious of the whole incident. He’s the man closest to Costigan and despite their differences, he knows that the kid has a good heart. I don’t believe that a scene is needed to showcase Dignam going undercover and getting to the truth himself. The clues are all there so it’s not hard to piece together. It’s especially aided by the big blowout Dignam and Sullivan had at the station over Captain Queenan’s death. It’s a minor negative as the pieces are all there on why he did it, but for Dignam to risk his entire reputation for revenge instead of justice is a bit of a headscratcher. Nevertheless, The Departed is an excellent gangster piece, and part of that reason is the rightful justice served at the end.

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