A riveting, masterful work with exceptional performances.
Martin Scorsese’s latest is a loose remake of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs centering on a cat and mouse game between a criminal posing as a cop and a cop posing as a criminal. For the remake, screenwriter William Monahan has relocated the storyline from the mean streets of Hong Kong to the mean streets of Boston.
Renamed The Departed and featuring one of the most impressive ensemble casts of recent memory, the setting is South Boston. The State police are waging war with a Boston organized crime ring led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Costello has groomed young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) since boyhood as his main man on the inside of the Boston Police force. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) grew up in the same areas, with a family heavily involved in the same crime rings. Determined to rise above and make something more of his life, Costigan is on his way to becoming a police officer when he is pulled aside by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dingam (Mark Wahlberg) and placed under secret assignment to infiltrate Costello’s mob and serve as an informant to the police.
With each man leading a double life where death can come at the drop of a hat, the pressure of the game quickly mounts as Costigan and Sullivan struggle to outwit one another and stay a step ahead. Both men are also trying to sniff out the rats within their respective crews. The supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone and Anthony Anderson.
You hear the name masterpiece in association with Martin Scorsese a lot. It is a term that has come describe many of the auteur’s works over the past 30 years, perhaps overused in some cases and entirely fitting in others. Over the past three decades, Scorsese’s output is unmatched by any director, which brings us back to a popular discussion amongst the film savvy of the almost unbelievable factoid that the man does not possess an Oscar. Although this reality is more a blight on the Oscar committee’s often bizarre choices (really, is there anyone out there that thinks Dances With Wolves is better than GoodFellas???) than on the incomparable Scorsese. Each and every time a new Scorsese movie is released, this debate returns and that old watercooler question returns, Will Scorsese take home the Oscar this time around?
That is a question that will remain unanswered and debated until February. But who cares? We, the movie fans, are the winners when we get to enjoy a film as terrifically entertaining as this. I use the word masterpiece with full acknowledgement of its weight, but that’s exactly what The Departed is. It’s Scorsese’s best film since 1990’s GoodFellas. Oscar? Maybe. Classic? Definitely.
From the opening moments where Nicholson simply chews the scenery, replete with trademark grin and dead-on dialogues, you are pulled in for the ride. Nicholson’s Costello, a remorseless, powerful killer, bemuses over the way a corpse falls to the ground in a strange way on top of another corpse – both of which he killed. Nicholson adds another memorable bad guy performance to his resume, still as compelling as ever in his golden years.
DiCaprio is absolutely outstanding in his best adult role to date. We’ve known he’s a terrific actor for a long time, but with The Departed, he’s shed his boyish looks to a degree and taken on a level of maturity evident not just in his looks, but in his acting. Working with Scorsese for the third consecutive film, the great director has found his new De Niro and, it appears, rediscovered his own intense passion along with it.
Damon’s work is strong as well, managing to keep the smirking to a minimum except as required. You’re not supposed to like Damon’s character especially and the actor sells this overconfident, slightly sniveling portrayal to the point that you can’t wait for DiCaprio to get the leg out up on him.
There are many strong performances worth noting. Some are not so surprising, such as a wisecracking and suddenly violent Alec Baldwin echoing his Glengarry Glen Ross character or the always good Martin Sheen as the empathetic Queenan. Newcomer Vera Farmiga is both beautiful and compelling as the torn psychiatrist. But the real standout surprise is Mark Wahlberg as Digham. This is a character unlike anything he’s played before. He’s a mean jerk and you hate him at first, but little by little, he grows on you. Also, he delivers what in my humble opinion is the film’s best line, a moment which received the biggest crowd reaction at last night’s screening. Wahlberg nails the part and fully deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod.
What more can you say about Scorsese without saying what’s been said before? As good as he always is, he hasn’t been this good in a long time. The Departed is a great film that will keep audiences riveted from start to finish. For those who might hesitate at the 2 ½ hour running time, believe me, you’ll never notice it.
Credit for the brisk feel of The Departed must be duly offered to Scorsese’s longtime editor and two-time Oscar winner, Thelma Schoonmaker. Her work here is very reminiscent of GoodFellas, with often jarring cuts smash cuts and the omnipresent gun shots blaring from speaker to speaker.
William Monahan’s script is tight from start to finish. While I enjoyed Infernal Affairs, what Monahan has done here cannot be overstated. He has taken the initial concept as a jump off point and made it into something far grander, far more epic in scale. It’s high drama, but also pure entertainment at the core.
Scorsese’s musical knowledge comes second only to his encyclopedic film knowledge. Music is always an important aspect of his work, but Departed’s musical cues are even more a part of the final product than usual. Incorporating everything from Patsy Cline and The Rolling Stones to John Lennon and The Dropkick Murphys (whose “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” is used multiple times), the musical choices are perfection. The memorable score is performed, in large, by the NYPD Emerald Society of Pipes and Drums.
What more is there to say? The Departed is an excellent film and a future classic. It has terrific performances across the board, a tightly-woven, highly compelling story and great music. It’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I can’t wait to see it again.
What's on the Disc
For such a recent release, Warnerr Brothers has