Martin Scorsese has made historical dramas, biopics, thrillers, comedies, even a musical. But he is best known for his crime films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino. He seems most at home when exploring the darker elements of humanity – violence, corruption, obsession, and the abuse of power. Scorsese’s latest film – The Departed – marks a return to the crime film, only this time he examines both the criminal and the crime fighter.
Based on Infernal Affairs – a B-Grade Hong Kong crime film – The Departed tells the story of two men – Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio). Both grow up on the ‘wrong’ side of town, surrounded by poverty and crime. Both have a close association with criminals; Costigan’s father was a renowned thug, while Sullivan was virtually ‘adopted’ by Irish-American gang leader, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Both join the police force, Costigan in an effort to prove himself and overcome the deficiencies of his background, Sullivan in order to provide mentor Costello with valuable inside information. The twist comes when Costigan is asked to go ‘undercover’ and infiltrate Costello’s gang.
The movie follows Sullivan and Costigan as their positions within the respective organizations become compromised, and the threat of exposure increases. To complicate matters, both Sullivan and Costigan become involved with the same woman (Vera Farmiga), a police psychologist initially charmed by Sullivan, but later drawn to Costigan. Both men grow desperate as the tension and body count rises, and the film hurtles towards its bleak and bloody conclusion
The predominantly male cast is excellent. Jack Nicholson relishes his role as crime boss, Frank Costello, without turning the character into a cartoon. Matt Damon impresses as the duplicitous Colin Sullivan, while Leo Di Caprio shines as Billy Costigan, the undercover cop who must keep quiet while witnessing extortion and murder. It’s Di Caprio’s third Scorsese picture in a row, and this is his best performance of the three. The supporting actors like Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and especially Mark Wahlberg as the foul-mouthed detective, Dignam, are all terrific.
The weakest character is, unfortunately, the only female role of any substance. Vera Farmiga’s Madolyn is a breath of fresh air amid all the swaggering men, but her character is both unlikely and unnecessary.
The dialogue is gritty and realistic, filled with a caustic wit and grim humour (although I couldn’t help but cringe at some of the macho ‘ball-breaking’). And, as is usual for a Scorsese movie, the soundtrack is spot on, and includes popular songs by Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, as well as a score by Howard Shore.
At 152 minutes, The Departed is a long film. But I got the impression that a great deal was cut out of the movie, for it seemed occasionally disjointed, with sudden shifts in mood or scene, while some minor plot threads are not developed or simply disappear.
For the most part, however, this is fabulous filmmaking. The Departed is packed with memorable moments and terrific performances. It’s Scorsese’s best film for some time.