A review of Scorese's Departed. (Older review)
SCORSESE'S MASTERFUL RETURN TO FORM
From the moment the first chords of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" begin behind a stirring, unapologetic monologue from Jack Nicholson, you know you're in Martin Scorsese's world. Not the world of The Aviator or Gangs of New York, but the bloody, profane world of Goodfellas and Casino. Scorsese has given his fans reason to believe that in the past decade, he would never return to the art of the gangster picture. The Departed gives moviegoers a chance to see the type of film that made one of America's most innovative filmmakers a household name.
The story, loosely based on Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs films, is about two young Boston cops whose careers go in opposite moral directions. Billy Costigan, played here by Leonardo Dicaprio, is a young trooper commissioned to go deep undercover in the Boston underworld. Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, is a detective who secretly works as an informer for Boston's big bad Irish mob boss, Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson. The story is about Sullivan and Costigan representing the two ethical sides of the Boston Police, but the center of the story is Nicholson's Costello, one of Scorsese's greatest villains. Costigan pretends to work for Costello, but Sullivan actually does. There is also a large cast of A-list supporting actors who round out the less electrifying scenes with strong performances of their own. With the exception of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Scorsese films rarely have a strong female lead, but here, Vera Farmiga, who plays Madolyn, a psychiatrist right in the middle of Sullivan and Costigan, squashes any doubts of Scorsese's lack of strong female personalities. Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Mark Wahlberg are relegated to small roles, but each play their parts out with a ferocity alot of leads don't in recent movies.
Anyone with any questions about why Scorsese has cast DiCaprio in his last three lead roles should rest easy here. DiCaprio's evolution from recruit to desperate undercover cop grounds the movie in the roots of its seemingly normal story. He plays Costigan with the type of desperation and believability that made Liotta's Henry Hill so successful in the middle of DeNiro and Pesci. DiCaprio has never been better than he is in The Departed, and at Oscar time, may find Billy Costigan is the role of his career. Matt Damon, perhaps the weakest of the lead trio, plays his despicable character with such emotion that you sometimes forget that he becomes the lynchpin in the corrupt law machine. The best performance here comes from Jack Nicholson, who hasn't been this brutal or fun to watch since The Shining. Scorsese lets him have fun with Costello, and William Monahan's script is full of darkly comic moments that Nicholson milks in every scene. Frank Costello is a murderous, immoral figure, but Nicholson makes you love him. In an effective Scorsese gangster picture, the villains always steal the screen, and it's never been more apparent than it is here. Sheen and Baldwin are solid in their bare-bones roles, but Wahlberg is hilarious and hot tempered as Staff Sergeant Dingham, who fights off his superiors and corruption in the name of the law, which has a massive gray area in The Departed.
The soundtrack in a Scorsese film is just as much an integral part as the script and the actors. He goes back to his old faithful, the Rolling Stones, as well as including tracks from Boston's Dropkick Murphy's.
Copious amounts of profanity and blood spilling are there, but never to the point of being gratuitous. Every word and action is a part of Boston's dark, gritty world.
In 2006, Martin Scorsese has given the movie going public a masterpiece of a film, and if it is his swan song, it is one that should be seen and embraced by both his fans and his naysayers.