The Departed (2006) dir Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg,
It was a dream project when we all first heard Martin Scorsese was remaking “Infernal Affairs”, with cast of DiCaprio/Damon/Nicholson/Wahlberg, and so the anticipation was large. What kind of a film could Marty make of this? This question is answered when that Dropkick Murphy’s track kicks in in the first five minutes. We know we are in for a ride.
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively, play a mobster and a cop. DiCaprio’s character, Billy Costigan, is assigned from the day he graduates from the force to go deep undercover within the Irish mob in Boston. Damon’s character, Colin Sullivan, enters the police force to become a mole for his mob kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).
Gradually the dueling moles learn about each others existence, and are assigned to find the other. This is when it gets confusing. Every cell phone call requires a good minute or so of thought before deciding which lie to tell and to whom. Both actors fall deep into their roles and we as the audience often forget who’s good and who’s bad. The burden of being undercover weighs heavily on Costigan. DiCaprio plays him with a nervous edge - he looks like he’s about to fall to pieces at any moment. Damon (the more modest of the two actors) by contrast, has the less-showy performance and plays Sullivan like a machine – focused, poker-faced, and single-minded. The scene in the elevator is a perfect example of the ruthlessness of his character. Sullivan has a brief moment to figure out what to do and performs an action that shocks us all.
Scorsese directs with cinematic machismo. The body count is high. Marty’s on fire reinventing his trademark ‘Scorsese’ scenes – DiCaprio’s mob initiation scene, for example, recalls the old’ ‘head-in-a-vice’ scene in “Casino.” The plot machinations are complicated, yet rarely are we confused with what’s going on. Though we, as the audience, have the ability to ‘pause’ the film to rethink a piece of the plot, somehow the characters can keep everything straight and make split second decisions.
“The Departed” is by no means a perfect movie – and perhaps the brevity of “Infernal Affairs” (a good 30mins lighter), makes it a better film. Arguably Nicholson is miscast, or perhaps mishandled by Scorsese. It’s a shame De Niro had to go and make “The Good Shepherd,” because a Scorsese/De Niro reunion on this film makes me salivate. I also wish Scorsese would update his record collection, “Gimme Shelter” and “Comfortably Numb” again? Both are good songs, but not appropriate for a film that takes place in present day. And the last shot of the film, perhaps an homage to Hitchcock or a wink to the audience, sadly takes away from the film.
Despite the minor criticisms, let’s applaud the Academy for choosing the first crime/thriller genre film to win Best Picture since “The French Connection.” “The Departed” is available on DVD. Please rent it and enjoy.
The Departed (Two-Disc Special Edition)