Oscar Movie Month: "The Departed" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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Rating: R

Length: 151 minutes

Release Date: October 6, 2006

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller


In "The Departed," a 2006 remake of the 2002 Hong Kong movie "Infernal Affairs," Martin Scorsese and his stellar cast have crafted one of the best crime thrillers ever made. Set in the police offices and underworld of Boston, it is a riveting tale of deceit, betrayal and the inevitable consequences of both. This strong, complex film brings to mind the gripping Scorsese street dramas of decades ago, with their complex, guilt-ridden characters and tense, absorbing plots.

The film opens with Frank Costello, a cruel mobster played by Jack Nicholson, meeting and winning over a young boy named Colin Sullivan. Costello plants grown-up Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, into the Boston police force as his own personal spy. In the same police academy class is Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is asked by the captain to go undercover and infiltrate Costello's mob. He leaves the academy, spends time in prison to boost his credibility and successfully works his way into Costello's favor. The situation is further complicated by the fact that both men start a relationship with psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, who is played by Vera Farmiga. In this way, an intense, convoluted situation is set up. Neither informant knows the other's identity. The police and the gangsters both become aware that they have a spy in their midst. As efforts intensify on both sides to uncover their respective moles, the tension winds tighter and tighter until it reaches the breaking point. Though the bloodbath at the end is predictable and inevitable, it is still shockingly relentless as it happens.

Martin Scorsese has long been considered one of the world's finest film directors, with such superior films as "Taxi Driver," "Goodfellas," "Raging Bull" and "The Gangs of New York." However, even when compared with such cinematic classics, "The Departed" can be definitively recognized as one of his finest works. Whether the scene quietly builds character, hums with tension or bursts forth in a melee of violence, Scorsese is in complete control of his gritty material. Complementing the excellent direction is the tight, explosive film editing of Thelma Schoonmaker. Though the film is two and a half hours long, it never lags. Each moment builds to the shattering climax. The stark, vibrant cinematography of Michael Ballhaus precisely recreates the milieu of the sordid streets.

The screenplay by William Monahan expertly takes the original Hong Kong story to the brutal streets of Boston. Though the action is intricate, it is never obscure. Violence is inherent from the opening scene, but there is very little outright violence until the last act, when all the pent-up tension bursts forth. The character build-up has been so thorough and precise that when each one meets his fate, it is impossible to imagine any other resolution.

The film's sound track also reflects its rough, gritty theme. It opens with the song "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones. Later, another Rolling Stones song, "Let It Loose," also appears. Other musicians on the soundtrack include John Lennon, Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, the Allman Brothers Band, Roger Waters, Van Morrison, Patsy Cline and Badfinger. To complement the popular songs, Howard Shore wrote the subtle, evocative score. 

To bring this story to life, Scorsese brought together an amazing cast of superb actors, and each one is in top form. Nicholson as Costello is appropriately evil and frightening. His character is based on a real Irish thug named Whitey Bolger, and as portrayed by Nicholson, he is both repulsive and electrifying. In a career of great performances, this is one of Nicholson's finest. Matt Damon also gives one of his best performances as Sullivan, the nasty, conceited mobster who poses as a clean, heroic police officer. DeCaprio as Costigan, the cadet who must infiltrate the mob, displays great depth of emotion as he compromises his convictions more and more to keep his real identity hidden from Costello. The supporting cast is excellent as well. Mark Wahlberg gives a career-best performance as the police captain's abrasive staff sergeant. Also impressive are Vera Farmiga as the psychiatrist, Ray Winstone as Costello's right-hand man, Martin Sheen as police captain Queenan and Alec Baldwin as the captain who oversees Sullivan.

At the Golden Globe awards in January 2007, Martin Scorsese won Best Director honors for "The Departed." The film was also nominated for five Academy Awards. At the ceremony in February 2007, it won the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Mark Wahlberg had also been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5