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October 2006
The Departed

By Wilson Morales

The Departed

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter: William Monahan, based on the screenplay Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak and Felix Chong
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Composer: Howard Shore
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin, David O'Hara, James Badge Dale, Kristen Dalton
Screened at: AMC Empire 25, NYC

Every time Martin Scorsese does a film, we are just waiting to see if this is one. The one film that will finally net him the elusive Oscar everyone wants so terribly for him. After all, with such classics as “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”, plus standpoints like “Casino”, and “The Avaitor”, one would think he should have a multiple amount of gold statues at this point, but for reasons no one really explain, he doesn’t have any. He simply didn’t have the best film the years each of his films came out. Regardless, Scorsese continues to reinvent his game with each film he directs, and he does so again with his latest, The Departed. Not only is it a return to form for him, in terms of going back to the gangster genre in which he can direct blind, but he has his current muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, acting better than he did in the previous two films (Gangs of New York, The Avaitor) they worked on together. Scorsese has also assembled an ocean of talent that’s probably hard to beat. From legend Jack Nicholson, to Matt Damon, to Mark Walhberg, to Alec Baldwin and to add some flavor to the mix, Anthony Anderson. The list goes on and on. The Departed is one of the year’s best films. It’s explosive to say the least, but it’s also well-acted, executed, and highly intense. In a game of cat and mouse, it’s the rat that takes the cheese, and the price is high when doing so.

Based on the acclaimed Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, but this time set in Boston, we start some years back where Frank Costello (Nicholson) narrates us through rough times in Boston when there were riots in the streets and folks of different races were being harassed if not beaten for being from the other side of the track. Costello is the main mobster in town, the one everyone fears, except for young Colin Sullivan, who Costello takes a liking to because he knew his dead parents. Costello befriends Sullivan and brings him up within his organization until he’s old enough to serve his duty, oddly enough, and join the police force as an informant for him. While Sullivan shines at the Police Academy winning the respect of his peers, another young lad there, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), struggles to get on the force. After graduation, both men are led into the office of Captain Oliver Queenan (Sheen) and his right-hand, Sgt. Dignam (Wahlberg), who wastes no time in berating them for being young punks who think the badge makes them cops. While Sullivan shrugs the verbal abuse off and leaves with a promotion, Costigan takes it to heart. His family, however separate he is from them, has mob connections, and Queenan and Dignan want to exploit that and use Costigan to flush out and nail mob kingpin Costello once and for all. Going undercover involves losing his identity, going to jail, and starting fresh as an ex-con, hoping to fall within Costello’s circle.

Within time, the cat and mouse game begins as Costello continues to outwit Queenan, Ellerby (Baldwin), and the men in blue through Sullivan’s help, yet can’t figure out how is it that the cops are always close to him, which unbeknownst to him, is through Costigan’s efforts. As Sullivan settles into his position as leader of his unit, he takes in a penthouse where he can see the courthouse. Meanwhile, Costigan is always nervous and fears his cover will be blown. When circumstances expose corruption within the force and betrayal amongst Costello’s circle, Sullivan and Costigan work overtime to flush out the other while struggling to maintain their cover themselves.

Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan have certainly put together a well-crafted, profanity-laced film filled enough showmanship for every character to stand out. In his previous films, the center of attention were usually the main character along with one or two others, but with “The Departed, though Matt and Leo lead the pack, Jack, Mark, Alec, and Vera, among others have their moment in the sun. Though similar and longer than the original, Monahan has given new depth to the characters that Matt and Leo play. This is by far the best role DiCaprio has played so far in his career. With “The Aviator”, he may have had too much on his plate to eat, and with this film, his character is balanced out with rage, vulnerability, and confidence. Damon plays his role with coolness, always knowing who’s in charge, but having his say in the matter as well. What can you say about Jack Nicholson that you don’t know already? As diabolical, fearful and perverted his character is, the man just electrifies the screen with his presence. With Damon’s Colin, Costello is the boss to him, yet with Leo’s Billy, he acts as a father figure. Believe me when I say that it’s not a one-performance; just a performance worth seeing. As for the scene-stealers, give that to Mark Walhberg. Who knew he could he be a comic in such a dramatic film? As the female interconnecting with Damon and DiCaprio’s characters, Farmiga holds her own amongst the thespians.

At 2 ½ hours, the film drags a little in some parts but it doesn’t take away from the intensity Scorsese has created. In most gangster films, there are plenty of deaths and with Scorsese’s films, death scenes will be brutal and to the point. “The Departed” offers that and more. It’s about family and loyalty. The price of betrayal is heavy and in the end, the consequences justify the means. One of the most highly testosterone films of the years, “The Departed” is loaded with action, suspense, and riveting performances.