Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Premise: Billy Costigan, a Massachusetts state police officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover and infiltrates an organized crime syndicate run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). At the same time, Costello has Colin Sullivan, a mole inside of the police force (Matt Damon) attempt to flush Costigan out of his cover.
What Works: The Departed is an excellent film. Its cinematography is excellent and the editing, particularly the cross cutting between scenes, is done very well. The film is a throwback to Scorsese’s earlier work like Mean Streets and Raging Bull, but rather than be a step back, Scorsese has brought his accumulated filmmaking experience with him and puts forth a project that in many ways exceeds his other work in the gangster genre. William (Kingdom of Heaven) Monahan’s screenplay, an adaptation of the screenplay to Infernal Affairs, has great dialogue and creates situations and relationships that are above and beyond genre conventions. The performances in The Departed are excellent, especially Jack Nicholson’s role as Costello. Where many gangster figures come down to imitations of Al Pacino in Scarface or Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Nicholson’s performance really brings something new to these types of characters. There is an insanity and instability about Costello that makes him frightening but these qualities are matched against a paternal side that also makes him very human and vulnerable. Another noteworthy performance in the film is Vera Farmiga as a police counselor who is caught between Costigan and Sullivan romantically and ethically. Her performance and Monahan’s writing for the character rise above what has usually been done with these types of roles and turns her into an interesting and complex figure in the film.
What Doesn’t: The roles in the film that are a bit by the numbers are DiCaprio’s as Costigan and Damon’s role as Sullivan. While the film does characterize them and creates very interesting situations for the characters, the performances do not standout like they do for Nicholson and Farmiga. The ending of The Departed is a bit problematic because of multiple climaxes and the film’s lack of a denouement.
Bottom Line: The excellence of the production and the cast makes The Departed one of Scorsese best pictures, maybe his best since Goodfellas. It does not totally redefine the gangster film but it does make some revisions to the genre and is a very interesting combination of traditional gangster films like Scarface and contemporary urban films like Boys in the Hood. This is one of the best films in the genre in a very long time.
Episode: #112 (October 15, 2006)