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Departed, The (DVD) (WS)
Martin Scorsese directs an all-star cast in this action-packed thrillerset in Boston, where a long-simmering hostility between the policedepartment and an Irish-American gang led by Costello (Academy Awardwinner Jack Nicholson--About Schmidt, Something's Gotta Give) is primedto explode. The fuse is lit when a gangster (Matt Damon--The BourneIdentity, The Bourne Supremacy) is chosen to infiltrate the policeforce--and a young cop (Leonardo DiCaprio--The Aviator, Titanic) goesundercover within the gang. Now, when the two moles uncover each other'sidentity, the battle begins]]>
Martin Scorsese makes a welcome return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) with The Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film since Casino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim, The Departed is also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying that The Departed is a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costello's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and Sullivan conduct a volatile search for each other (they're essentially looking for "themselves") while simultaneously wooing the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) assigned to treat their crime-driven anxieties.
Such convenient coincidences might sink a lesser film, but The Departed is so electrifying that you barely notice the plot-holes. And while Nicholson's profane swagger is too much "Jack" and not enough "Costello," he's still a joy to watch, especially in a film that's additionally energized by memorable (and frequently hilarious) supporting roles for Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and a host of other big-name performers. The Departed also makes clever and plot-dependent use of cell-phones, to the extent that it couldn't exist without them. Powered by Scorsese's trademark use of well-chosen soundtrack songs (from vintage rock to Puccini's operas), The Departed may not be perfect, but it's one helluva ride for moviegoers, proving popular enough to become the biggest box-office hit of Scorsese's commercially rocky career. --Jeff Shannon
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In subject matter and execution, however, this is undeniably a Scorsese picture, and it's one of his best. The setting may be Boston, not New York or Vegas, but it's the always yet unpredictably violent underworld of "GoodFellows," with sidelong glances at the Catholic Church in which Scorsese (like Hitchcock) was raised. All of Scorsese's movies are layered, but this one has layers upon layers. It's also an updated film noir: it may not end happily for everyone, but all the threads finally come together in an elegant way. Every actor, including Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg in smaller roles, is at the top of his or her game. Nicholson's persona is so strong that he nearly steals the show, but both Scorsese and his ace editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, prevent that imbalance.
One of the tensest scenes in "The Departed" occurs in two of the most mundane settings imaginable and is completely silent save for an everyday sound effect: a cell phone's buzz. The scene runs for what seems like a minute. The actors say nothing; their faces speak volumes. The director composes the shots with perfection; the editor cross-cuts between the actors to a hair's breadth. I was on the edge of my seat. That's some moviemaking.
The Departed, based on Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), is Scorsese's first gangster film not to feature Italian-American criminals. In fact, this film is set in Boston, where the Irish rule. One of these "godfathers" is Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), the man the State Police want the most. After years of investigation, they're finally getting close, thanks to undercover agent Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio). Because of his family (all Irish, all bad), becoming a member of Costello's crew isn't that difficult. Now all Costigan has to do is report to his superiors, Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), who will pass on the information to Ellerby's (Alec Baldwin) Special Investigations Unit. What they don't know is that Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), the most promising element of said unit, has been on Costello's payroll since he was 12. Soon enough, both cops and crooks become aware of the situation, beginning a manhunt that's gonna make the already fragile Billy even more nervous and Costello increasingly crazier.
By moving from Hong Kong to Boston, Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan have made the first step in ensuring this film will be quite different from its Chinese inspiration. Another significant factor is the running time: a mere 97 minutes for Infernal Affairs, 150 for The Departed. This is due to new characters (Dignam and Costello's henchman Mr French, played by Ray Winstone, were missing in the original) and subplots, such as the one concerning Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a psychiatrist who gets emotionally involved with both of the moles. But the most crucial difference is in the depiction of the underworld: whereas IA was stylish without being excessive, Scorsese's vision comprises very colorful language (some insults are so creative one might expect Joe Pesci to show up) and, of course, buckets of blood, the last part of the movie proving to be particularly shocking. None of the scenes ever reach the gross-out level of Casino's head-in-the-vice scene, but in pure Scorsese tradition it remains unflinchingly violent (also notable is the music, perfectly setting the mood, scene after scene, alongside Thelma Schoonmaker's impeccable editing).
Amidst these brutal surroundings, the director handles a spot-on cast: Baldwin, Sheen and Wahlberg (the latter finally back on form) make good use of their little screen time, Damon fine-tunes the edgier side he showed in The Talented Mr Ripley and the Bourne movies, and Nicholson, playing the villain again at last, delivers another OTT but classy turn (original choice Robert De Niro would probably have played the part with more calm and subtlety). A special mention is needed for Di Caprio: working with Scorsese for the third consecutive time, he has finally found a way to shake off his Titanic image, thanks to a vulnerable, gripping (and arguably career-best) performance.
With its clever plot, excellent acting and expert direction, The Departed is without doubt the year's best film so far. If this really is going to be his last gangster film (he has said so), as well as his last studio-endorsed picture, Scorsese can be proud, given the masterpiece he has given us.