#331 The Departed
(2006, Martin Scorsese)
“When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
Once upon a time, Martin Scorsese had a tendency to cast Robert De Niro in every movie he made. However, as De Niro got older and more cynical, Scorsese has latched onto another actor to be his lead man – Leonardo DiCaprio. And today, we’ll be taking a look at one of the first major collaborations between the two: The Departed, a remake of Hong Kong action movie Internal Affairs.
In an Irish neighbourhood in South Boston, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), head of the Irish mob, approaches a boy in a local shop and steadily trains him up to be a mole in the police. Cut to several years later, and the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), has successfully made his way into the Special Investigations Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, where he leaks information to Costello to help him resist arrest.
However, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), a fellow new recruit, has been sent undercover to infiltrate Costello’s crew due to his own familial connections with organised crime. Gradually, both men become aware of each other and they race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.
The Departed is a fairly standard modern crime drama. There’s deceit, mystery, intrigue, false information, plot twists and lots of racing against time. It’s not a film that’s necessarily going to win awards for originality. That said, it is a well-made crime drama, with all the elements fitting together as they should to make a piece of entertaining cinema.
The cast are a major factor in this, of course. DiCaprio in recent years has pushed to shake off his pretty-boy image cultivated in roles like Titanic and Romeo & Juliet, and it was in movies like this that he really strived to prove his acting chops. His performance as the constantly conflicted Costigan was absolutely spot-on, giving us a likeable yet still somehow sleazy character that gives the movie a central focus with so much going on.
Matt Damon is decent too, playing a character that is believable as a seemingly honest cop, while managing to make himself appear pretty evil and menacing. However, I was less sure about his Boston accent which felt a little too forced and over the top. Okay, everyone else had silly Boston accents too, but Damon’s stuck out a little too much.
Other cast members did a great job too, with Martin Sheen being as excellent as always and Jack Nicholson managing to reign in just enough of his cartoonish crazy to make Costello work as a character. Mark Wahlberg was less interesting though, spending most of his time being randomly angry and stompy, and Ray Winstone would have been good if he’d just picked an accent and stuck with it instead of trying to use all of them.
The entire movie is smartly written as well, but still suffers a little from Scorsese’s occasional theatrics that pad a film out longer than it needs to be. There are some pacing issues here, and perhaps 30 minutes could have been trimmed off the running time to keep it more focused, but overall it works.
As you’d expect from Scorsese as well, this movie is highly polished. Everything has a particular sheen to it and everything is tightly edited. The cinematography is excellent throughout, and there are a lot of meticulous details that bring this fictional version of Boston to life.
The Departed is overall a great piece of entertainment that thoroughly deserved the praise it received on release. It’s got a few minor issues here and there, but as part of the whole package those flaws are easily overlooked.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga & Alec Baldwin
Written by Alan Mak & Felix Chong (screenplay – Internal Affairs) and William Monahan
Produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey & Graham King
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker
Favourite Scene: The sting operation, where both moles try and sabotage the respective operations, ultimately competing with each other unknowingly.
Scene That Bugged Me: Billy sleeping with Colin’s girlfriend felt incredibly unnecessary.
Watch it if: You like stylish crime thrillers
Avoid it if: You hate bad Boston accents