101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

Journalist-turned-novelist-turned-screenwriter William Monahan won the gig to adapt a Hong Kong thriller into an American star vehicle by transposing the story to his native Boston, and the authenticity of his script’s local color—tethered, of course, to black humor, gruesome violence, twisted morality, and ruminations on class divisions—ensured that Monahan’s contributions didn’t get overshadowed by those of his megawatt collaborators (director Martin Scorsese, stars Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, producer Brad Pitt). The key, Monahan explained, was approaching the bruising story about a cop infiltrating the Irish mob as a character piece, elevating pulpy intrigue to brutal psychodrama. How brutal? Try bashing-someone’s-broken-arm-against-a-pool-table brutal. Add in copious F-bombs, outrageous trash talk, and a criminal-kingpin role tailored so Nicholson could personify a grotesque B-town riff on King Lear, and the outcome is an unforgiving crime saga with swagger to spare. Monahan won the 2007 Writers Guild Award for Adapted Screenplay for The Departed.