The Departed Review


“The Departed” is director Martin Scorsese’s best work since “Taxi Driver.” Yeah, I said it. I think this film is better than “Goodfellas” and “Raging Bull.” In fact, for a long time, this film was my standard answer for the dreaded “What’s your favorite movie?” question. I no longer hold it in such high esteem (not for any particular reason other than I’ve seen other films I like more), but I still think this is one of the finest films in recent years.

Based on “Infernal Affairs,” a series of Hong Kong action films, “The Departed” tells the complicated story of two Boston police officers caught up in the criminal underworld. Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is the boss on the streets of Boston; it’s his way or the highway. The film’s brilliant prologue introduces us to Frank, as well as Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonard DiCaprio). Colin meets Frank as a young boy, and Frank becomes a mentor to Colin. When Colin grows up, Frank puts him through the police academy with the intention of having Colin as his mole.

Billy, on the other hand, is trying to escape his criminal lineage (his father, uncles, cousins, everyone in his life seems to be connected to Frank at one point in their lives). He attends the police academy at the same time as Colin. Although the two don’t know each other, their lives will be inextricably linked for quite some time because Billy is asked by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to go undercover for them in Costello’s organization. So begins a brilliant cat-and-mouse game between the two men and their superiors (whoever they might be).

It’s hard to point out my favorite aspect of “The Departed.” If pressed, I’d probably have to say the film’s structure. I just love the premise of having two moles, both of whom know the other exists but without knowing his identity. In typical Scorsese fashion, he takes his time developing the interlocking layers of this story, including a woman (Vera Farmiga) who is involved with both Billy and Colin. It’s fascinating that Colin, the film’s villain, has a great life, while Billy sacrifices everything for his job and seems to be losing his mind. These two individuals are nearly perfect mirrors of each other which makes for really interesting viewing.

“The Departed” is full of Scorsese’s trademarks, which we’ve come to expect and love over the years. The Rolling Stones are prominently featured in the soundtrack. The film is violent (the big twist near the end is both shocking and extremely bloody) and full of profanity. And the cinematography, editing, etc. are all executed brilliantly.

Scorsese has assembled one of the finest ensemble casts in years. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the finest film of his career (and one of the finest by anyone of the past decade). He’s incredibly intense, as befits the situation, but he’s also vulnerable. We see this in his scenes with Vera Farmiga, who holds her own with the rest of her testosterone-heavy cast. Matt Damon successfully plays against type (although his character is somewhat similar to Tom Ripley in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”). Jack Nicholson is also excellent. I remember being shocked he didn’t land an Oscar nomination (the film’s only acting nod went to Mark Wahlberg who is also terrific) because this is one of those classic scenery-chewing roles that Nicholson does so well. The rest of the cast, from Martin Sheen to Alec Baldwin to Ray Winstone, is also great.

With “The Departed,” Scorsese finally won his elusive Best Director Oscar. I remember that night and the incredible standing ovation he received when accepting his award. The film also took home Best Picture, among other awards. It was one of the Academy’s best decisions of the past decade, for the group of movies it was competing against was quite weak.

Many people remember “The Departed” for the big, bloody twist, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a labyrinthine clusterfuck of a film. It’s technically excellent (as always with Scorsese) and features top-notch acting. You never quite know where it’s going to go (as with Scorsese’s latest film “Shutter Island”), but it rightfully takes its time getting there. I consider this a modern classic; the kind of film I will revisit over and over again for years.

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