Movie Review: The Departed (2006)

Sounds like a horror movie.

The Departed (2006)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

I’ll get this out of the way right away, I’ve never seen any of Martin Scorsese‘s other gangland epics, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Casino, or Mean Streets, so I can’t tell you how The Departed stacks up in comparison to those films, or how much of its feel is simply transported to Boston from those other films. What I can tell you is that this is an incredible movie.

The Departed tells the tale of of two new members of the Boston Police Department, each with connections to the Irish mafia tracing back to their youth. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio, who has supplanted Robert De Niro as Scorsese’s featured player) grew up in a connected family whose father kept him out of the mob, making him an ideal candidate to infiltrate the mob by going undercover. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) was raised under the wing of mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) to infiltrate the State Detective Department to serve as a mole. As each man progresses in their tasks, they become aware of the other’s presence, becoming determined to keep their identity a secret while discovering the identity of the other.

The dueling undercover agent story, taken from the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs, makes this movie an interesting cat-and-mouse affair, keeping it from being simply another gangster movie or a standard-issue undercover tale. Both leads do a great job exuding confidence while maintaining cover, and vulnerability away from the job as the stress of living a double life at the highest stakes taxes their faculties. Damon has become a fairly underrated performer of late, making every movie he appears in better through his performance, and this one is no different. He adds complexity and dimension to his character, keeping him from being a simple moustache-twirling bad guy.

Nicholson gives his usual scenery-chewing performance as the head bad guy, giving it all his muster in a showy performance that delivers in keeping the film exciting and tense. His Frank Costello is crazy enough to instill fear, yet intelligent enough to explain how he has managed to stay in business all these years. The excellent cast is rounded out by Mark Wahlberg as a foul-mouthed detective, allowing him to use his Boston accent for maximum effect, Martin Sheen as the wiser, father-figure detective Oliver Queenan, Alec Baldwin playing the foul-mouthed blue collar character he’s proven adept at since relinquishing his leading-man status, and Vera Farmiga as the naturally-beautiful psychiatrist that gives glimpses into the internal struggles of both Sullivan and Costigan.

The action and intensity of the movie are electric, keeping the pace of the movie flowing throughout, making its 2.5 hour running time seem to fly by. Scorsese is a master of his craft, making the movie both gritty enough to capture the tone of the movie, yet dynamic enough to not get lost in all the grime. The story is gripping throughout, with enough white-knuckle tension to keep you at the edge of your seat, and enough subtlety to make you think about all its dimensions throughout. By the time the bloody third act rolls around, I was so engrossed by the proceedings that I’m not sure I blinked until the resolution had played out.

With this movie, the Oscar season of 2006 has officially begun. Martin Scorsese has crafted a stunning film that’s as tense, gritty, action-packed, and brilliant as any I’ve seen in a while, one good enough that the Academy is sure to… well, probably stiff him again (although, to be fair, there’s plenty of more movies to come, and if there’s better than this to come, then I should be a very happy movie-goer). Look for multiple nominations to come out of this one (Damon, DiCaprio, Nicholson, Sheen, Farmiga, William Monahan for adapted screenplay, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus should all warrant consideration), the current front-runner for Best Picture of the Year.


Related Reviews:
Aviator, The (2004)
Godfather, The (1972)
Usual Suspects, The (1995)

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