MOTW: "The Departed" Review

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Martin Scorsese directs this mob-themed crime thriller, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Set in Boston, Massachusetts, the story centers on two men, a corrupt cop (played by Matt Damon) and an informant (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), both of whom are pretending to be the opposite of what they really are. When both sides realize the situation, each man attempts to discover the other's true identity before his own cover is blown. Also starring Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson & Alec Baldwin.
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MOTW: "The Departed" Review

-- Rating: R (strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content, drug material)
Length: 151 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2006
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Crime/Thriller

Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) grew up on some of the meaner streets of Boston with very little in the way of career prospects. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) started life in a similar fashion, only to become a part of Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) inner circle. Costello has a knack for seeing the potential in someone, and he sees lots of spy potential in young Colin, who he dispatches to the police academy to act as a mole for him. With Colin quickly rising through the ranks of the Boston PD, Costello will get better and better intelligence, allowing him to continue unfettered with his criminal activities.

Meanwhile, Billy has grown up with some serious mental scarring from his troubled childhood. Nonetheless, he has a certain code he wants to live by, so he joins the police academy in the hopes of eventually becoming a state trooper and leading a quiet life. Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his foul-mouthed assistant Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) look the cadets over and choose Billy to infiltrate Costello's gang in the hopes of bringing him down. He reluctantly agrees to become their mole, and they set about devising a plan and identity to get his foot in Costello's door.

He manages to start out as a low-level thug, collecting money for Costello while being faced with several moral quandaries in the process. He doesn't want to kill anyone, but if he doesn't, he will be faced with suspicion and possibly outed as a mole. He has to decide just how deep down the rabbit hole he is willing to go, all in the name of eventual justice. He begins collecting good intelligence, but soon the hints that Colin is dropping to Costello at the same time begin to counteract Billy's info. Dignam and Queenan realize this means the police department has been infiltrated, but they have no idea it is shiny-rising-superstar Colin. The film then becomes a cat-and-mouse caper filled with tension and suspense as viewers wonder when Colin and Billy will collide and who will out the other one first. It may come sooner than planned, since both are seeing pretty psyche evaluator Madeleine (Vera Farmiga), who further complicated an already labyrinthine tale.

The film is based on "Infernal Affairs," an underrated Hong Kong crime thriller that didn't get the notice it deserved outside of Asia. Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan adapted the core parts of the original screenplay by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, while shedding other elements and adding new ones to make it their own. The result is a nuanced, tense look at the life of a police officer trying to do the right thing, but one who might be losing himself in the process. The pace is relatively slow, building up to a thrilling finale that allows all the actors involved to give some of their finest performances to date.

Speaking of performances, Leonardo DiCaprio is electrifying as Billy, proving that he is easily one of the best actors of his generation. He is so good here, that even his detractors have to admit the brilliance of his take on a struggling cop. Though he has been in grittier films, such as "Gangs of New York" and "The Man in the Iron Mask," "The Departed" helped DiCaprio truly shed the teenybopper image he was saddled with after the monstrous success of "Titanic" in 1997. The character of his drug-addicted bad boy desperately trying to be good was a tragic and affecting story that needed a bravura performance to bring it to life. DiCaprio stepped up to the plate and delivered.

Scorsese made what some still consider to be his masterpiece, "Goodfellas," in 1990, then followed it up with a string of good films that couldn't quite live up to the scope of the mob classic. Some began to question if Scorsese had lost his touch, or if he was just going after quieter films that didn't need to be as epic as "Goodfellas." Sixteen years after his supposed masterpiece, he put out "The Departed," which silenced his critics, and for good reason. It was a return to form for the director, who genuinely understands the machinations of daily mafia life and was able to translate it to the screen flawlessly. Perhaps Scorsese just needed the change of pace from the Brooklyn locale of "Goodfellas" to the Boston scene depicted in "The Departed." Maybe he needed the added element of the moles to bring his storytelling skills back to life. Whatever it was, "The Departed" is easily one of the best films on the resumé of one of the finest American directors in cinematic history.

Rating: 4 out of 5