I was reasonably dubious of “The Departed.” When you get an A-list cast, an iconic director, and a screenplay based on a great Hong Kong picture, the hyped promise usually fails to deliver. In this rare instance however, “The Departed” arrives and gloriously rises to the occasion. The movie is simply about two young men, who must hide their true allegiance while working for the opposing side. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a cop, masquerading as a thug for mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). On the flip side, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) works for Costello too, but he’s posing as a good-guy detective. I think it’s a brilliant concept that brings a new meaning to the term “good cop, bad cop.” Not only do these men have to outsmart their (rival) colleagues, they also must try not to blow their cover in the process. On that concept alone, the movie is guaranteed to generate thrills and suspense. Who knew rats could be so good?
The cast is phenomenal all-around and the all-star power doesn’t go to waste. I was in awe of Jack Nicholson. With ease, he commands the screen in one of his best roles in recent years. While he wept in “About Schmidt” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” it’s so invigorating to see his signature glee put to use again. His foreboding charm alone is what makes “The Departed” crackle with fun. Mr. DiCaprio, on his third film with Scorcese, has considerably improved but his brooding still looks affected to me. Mr. Damon, on the other hand, remains riveting in his most duplicitous role since “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” In supporting roles, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga have their own moments to shine. The delightful surprise though is Mark Wahlberg’s hilarious turn as a sergeant with a bad-ass language and attitude.
I did watch “Infernal Affairs,” the movie’s source of story, a couple of years ago. I remember it as a stylish and emotionally provoking picture. But somehow I couldn’t remember the detailed plot of that movie. Maybe it wasn’t as memorable as I thought. Maybe “The Departed” sucked me into the story so good that I didn’t bother thinking about the other movie. Whatever the case may be, I conclude that “The Departed” is the better film. However, I think “Infernal Affairs” has a more accessible storytelling and better interpretation of the Sullivan character.
It’s no brainer that what makes “The Departed” superior is Scorcese’s direction. Sometimes I even forgot he was directing because I was engrossed by what’s happening on screen. You can get lost in the violence, tough-guy talk, and gritty drama he orchestrates. This is his best film since “Casino.” Even though he tackled more ambitious projects such as “The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York,” I think “The Departed” might garner him his first Oscar. (Three 6 Mafia, you can stop dangling your award in front of him). But then again, there’s this thing called history and it tends to repeat itself. This could be another heartbreaking loss for Scorcese. All I know is that the man has been making masterpieces for decades. He might have no Oscar but Oscar is nothing compared to him.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin
Based on the screenplay “Infernal Affairs” by
Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong
Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material