Westfield State not thrilled with role in cop thriller
By KRISTIN PALPINI Staff Writer
WESTFIELD – You have to look pretty hard to find items from Westfield State College in the background of the new Martin Scorsese cop drama ‘The Departed.’ And some college officials couldn’t be happier.
In spring 2005, the college was asked to send the set director items an alumnus might have in his office to make the movie more authentic. ‘The Departed,’ which opened in theaters Friday, is set in South Boston and deals with the Massachusetts State Police’s war on organized crime.
Westfield State College has a reputation of having a strong criminal justice program and contributing many graduates to the state police force. College officials liked the idea of having their school linked to a film that stars Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, but were unaware of the negative slant the state police – and thus their own graduates – would be given by Scorsese.
‘I didn’t think any police officer in the movie was portrayed in the film positively,’ said Kimberly Tobin, chair of Westfield State College’s criminal justice department.
‘I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal of the students coming out of our department either,’ Tobin said. ‘I’m glad we’re not in the movie.’
Very few items from Westfield State College are noticeable in the movie. Professors who rushed out to scan the film’s background for Westfield State College items said they recognized a number of law books from the school. Alice Perry, an associate professor of criminal justice at the college, said she believes the diploma hanging in police Capt. Ellerby’s office is from Westfield State. Ellerby is played by Alec Baldwin.
Although few college articles are visible, Westfield State had sent the set directors coffee mugs, T-shirts, sweaters and umbrellas bearing the college’s logo, as well as law books and a diploma. Westfield State College was not specifically mentioned in the movie, said Scott J. White, director of the college’s homeland security program. However, Suffolk University, the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University were, he said.
‘Suffolk was represented quite well, which did not put them in the best light,’ White said.
‘The consensus so far here is that people are incensed that the movie did such a bad job in depicting the state police,’ said college spokesperson Craig Phelon. ‘So it’s controversial in that way.’
‘The Departed’ is a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong hit ‘Infernal Affairs.’ The plot revolves around double-agents playing a deadly game of cat and mouse. Both the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish-American mafia have infiltrated each other’s ranks with informants. When the deception is discovered, double-agents on both sides have to race to uncover each other and save their own skin.
Perry said it was good to see the Massachusetts State Police in a movie, despite some members of the force coming off as ‘doddering’ and ‘corrupt.’
‘Massachusetts State Police are some of the finest,’ said Perry who saw parallels between the movie’s plot and Boston’s own flap with South Boston gangland kingpin James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Before going into hiding for the last seven years, Bulger ratted out his thug colleagues to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in return for protection from arrest and prosecution.
‘In my opinion, Massachusetts should be very proud of them,’ Perry said of the state police. ‘It was nice to see them represented in a movie. Individuals do come off as corrupt, though.’
Despite some professors being unhappy with the film’s portrayal of Baystate police, everyone interviewed by the Gazette who saw the movie said they thoroughly enjoyed it. Some movie critics have already pegged ‘The Departed’ as an Oscar contender for best picture.
‘It’s an excellent piece of fiction,’ White said, ‘but I don’t think it represents the kind of undercover work that really goes on.’
Whether or not state police and college grads were portrayed negatively, Perry said having Westfield State College connected to the film can only be seen as a bonus for the school.
‘When it comes to be Oscar time, this will be seen as a good thing,’ Perry said.
‘You know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they’re talking about you,’ Perry said.
© Copyright 2006 Daily Hampshire Gazette