The Departed: A Noir Film

1. Introduction

The 2006 film The Departed is a crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg. The film is set in Boston and follows the story of an undercover police officer (DiCaprio) who infiltrates a gang of criminals led by Nicholson, and a gangster (Damon) who infiltrates the police department. The two men are pitted against each other in a battle of wits and survival.

The Departed has been widely praised by critics and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It is considered to be one of Scorsese’s best films, and is often mentioned as one of the greatest films of all time.

While The Departed is clearly a crime drama, there has been some debate over whether or not it can be classified as a noir film. In this essay, I will argue that The Departed is indeed a member of the noir genre. I will first provide a brief overview of noir, before discussing the ways in which The Departed fits within the genre.

2. Brief overview of noir

Noir is a genre of film that originated in the 1940s, following World War II. The term ‘noir’ is French for ‘black’, and was first used to describe American crime dramas with dark and cynical themes ( French Film Noir). These films were typically shot in black-and-white, and featured stories about criminals, private detectives, femmes fatales and ordinary people caught up in crime and corruption.

Noir films were heavily influenced by German Expressionism, which was a style of filmmaking that emphasized shadows, darkness and uncertainty (What is German Expressionism?). This can be seen in the use of dark rooms and poorly lit cities in many noir films. Noir also borrowed from the hard-boiled crime fiction genre popularized by American writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (What is Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction?). These stories typically featured tough detective protagonists who navigated their way through dangerous and seedy environments.

While noir began as a specific genre of film, it has since come to be seen as more of a style or approach to storytelling. As Scholar Robert Porfirio states, “film noir is not really a genre at all, but an aesthetic…a way of telling any kind of story” (Porfirio). This is evident in the way that noir elements have been used in films from different genres, such as science fiction (Blade Runner), horror (Nightmare on Elm Street) and even animated films (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm).

3. The Departed as a member of the noir genre
3.1 Style of narration

The Departed can be classified as a noir film due to its style of narration. Many noir films tell their stories using flashbacks or voice-over narration, which allows for a greater exploration of the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. This is seen in The Departed when both Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Damon) narrate their respective stories throughout the film. We are able to understand both men’s motivations and fears through their voice-over narration, which gives us a greater insight into their characters.

The use of flashbacks is another common noir storytelling device, and is used extensively in The Departed. We are shown key events from both Costigan’s and Sullivan’s pasts that help to explain their actions in the present. For example, a key scene in the film shows Costigan’s childhood abuse at the hands of his father, which explains his later psychopathy.

3. 2 Visual effects

The Departed also features many of the visual hallmarks of noir films. The film is shot primarily in dark colors, with little use of light and shadow. This creates a sense of unease and tension, which is common in noir films. Additionally, the film’s Boston setting gives it a seedy and dangerous atmosphere, which is another characteristic of noir.

The use of German Expressionist techniques can also be seen in The Departed. Many scenes in the film are shot in dark rooms or poorly lit streets, which emphasizes the film’s dark and pessimistic tone. Additionally, the use of shadows and silhouettes creates a sense of unease and paranoia, which are common themes in noir films.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, The Departed is a member of the noir genre due to its style of narration and visual effects. While The Departed is not a traditional noir film, it borrows heavily from the genre’s storytelling devices and visual style. This makes The Departed a unique and stylish addition to the noir genre.


Noir is a genre of film characterized by elements of crime, violence, and moral ambiguity.

"The Departed" is considered to be a classic example of the noir genre due to its dark and gritty portrayal of crime in Boston. The film follows the story of two men - one a police officer working undercover in the Irish mob, and the other a criminal informant - as they both attempt to outwit each other.

Some common elements of noir films include seedy characters, morally ambiguous protagonists, femme fatales, and bleak settings.

"The Departed" is considered to be a classic example of the genre because it perfectly encapsulates these elements while also telling a gripping and tense story.