By far one of the best movies of 2006, Martin Scorsese’s epic cop thriller The Departed was one of the more enjoyable times at the movies I’ve had in a long, long time. This isn’t The Aviator or The Gangs of New York Scorsese. It’s much closer to Goodfellas, but really the movie is a glorious love child of Mystic River and Heat.
It’s also an adaptation of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs which I haven’t seen. According to Wikipedia, Scorsese was unaware of the original when he read William Monahan’s script. Of course, remaking foreign films is de rigueur in Hollywood these days.
The entire group of actors from Jack Nicholson to Anthony Anderson is terrific and perfectly cast. DiCaprio and Damon carry the film like they are DeNiro and Pacino in Heat – they have one big scene together even though they are the leads throughout the picture. While there were glimmers of it in the aforementioned The Aviator and The Gangs of New York, DiCaprio here finally sheds his Titanic babyface and delivers an Oscar worthy performance.
Many will say Nicholson was over-the-top, but I disagree. His performance was less about being “Jack” and more about being a psychotic vulgar son-of-a-bitch. He isn’t campy, he’s creepy. He’s nearly channeling Jack Torrance of The Shining as the mob boss. I laughed at his rat imitation, but that’s the closest he comes to gratuitous exaggeration.
Damon conveys a man conflicted in his role as the mob’s mole in the police force. The toll it takes on him is shown as he compartmentalizes his life with live-in girlfriend Madolyn, played by the hauntingly beautiful yet eternally sad Vera Farmiga, and dealing with his father figure Frank Costello (Nicholson). He’s hard and weak all at the same time, an incredible feat for an actor.
The set-up is deceptively simple. Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Damon) are both trainees at the Massachusetts State Police Academy. Sullivan is groomed to be the mole in the State Police, while Costigan learns he will never be a traditional cop, but just might be exactly the type of undercover cop the Special Investigations Unit needs. This mirror image of loyalty to “family” and the blurry distinctions of identity are what drive the movie. It’s familiar territory to viewers of The Shield or even The Godfather.
Painting with a broad canvass, the story includes several opportunities for supporting actors to shine. Notably Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg take their limited screen time and build memorable characters. If anyone is chewing scenery in the movie, it’s Wahlberg who delivers his lines with all the conviction of a pitbull (“I’m the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.”). You can’t take your eyes off him on screen and when Baldwin and Wahlberg are on together, they shine like the sun.
Farmiga is mesmerizing as the police shrink who gets involved with Sullivan, but cheats on him with a “former” patient in Costigan. The audience, unfortunately, doesn’t quite get enough of her on screen to tell just how much she knows and how much she guesses about her paramours. I was hoping for one scene that’s only implied in the end.
The movie continuously pulses with energy and the lengthy running time is never a factor. I can’t remember a time when a cell phone set to vibrate created more tension than in this movie. Everything starts running like a train headed for the 50 foot ravine. It starts slow and then picks up speed.
While the movie is relentlessly violent, with more blood splatter in one amazingly complex and sudden scene than in all of The Godfather, I was never sickened. The scene in question certainly gives the audience a “what the hell is going to happen now?” moment. Think what happens to Scatman Crothers character from the The Shining and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I knew something was going to happen, but that moment was jolting even to a jaded movie-goer like myself.
I’m not a director snob. I think Spielberg is fantastic and I hate directors and direction that call attention to themselves or itself more than serving the needs of the story on the written page. However, Scorsese scores here.
In the movie, Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello asks a guy about his mother. He says, “She’s on her way out.” Frank retorts with “So are we all. Act accordingly.”
The only act I’m suggesting is for you to go out and see this film.