Top positive review
on December 15, 2017
This movie's premise is one that Hitchcock would have adored: two characters, each the other's double, are riddled with guilt and always in danger of exposure. One (played by Matt Damon) is a hood that, since childhood, has been groomed by gangsters as a police mole; the other (Leonardo diCaprio), a talented police cadet who's planted inside the mob. Each is answerable to a boss who is very good at what he does (Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson), which only heightens the danger—both to themselves and to their superiors. To top it off, there's a cool, attractive blonde (Vera Farmiga), who by accident becomes involved with both young men and becomes a linchpin between their destinies. If that's not enough, Scorsese, one of Hitchcock's admirers, borrows easily recognizable shots and camera angles from famous Hitchcock thrillers. (One of the movie's producers is billed as "Vertigo Films.")
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.