Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen,
Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin
Written by: William Monahan
“Martin Scorsese [the legendary filmmaker] zero Oscars – Three 6 Mafia, one!” The implication of Jon Stewart’s words during the 2006 Oscars stamped a red hot exclamation point onto the thoughts of many moviegoers. Hopefully, with this recent offering returning to a gritty crime-drama, the Academy will finally recognize Scorsese’s talent.
The Departed is a witty, highly original story about a State Trooper named Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes into deep cover to infiltrate Boston organized crime led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), an aging, teflon crime lord. Billy has a dark past and many connections with unsavory types, so he’s a shoo-in to get close to Frank. As a fresh plot element, one of Frank’s henchmen, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), goes into deep cover as a State Trooper. Here Damon treats us once again to his Boston accent that sounded so natural in Good Will Hunting. Once Billy and Colin discover the existence of one another, it’s up to them to smoke each other out. It is in these moments where the movie truly shines. The most tense scene is probably the film’s most subtle, with Billy and Colin on opposite ends of a silent phone call, waiting for the other to speak and betray their identity to the other.
The main plot is helped along the way by a wonderful supporting cast. After a few years doing comedies and misfired dramas, Jack Nicholson reprises his role as the Joker (not literally, but close), which comes almost as naturally as playing himself. His highly nuanced performance has Oscar contender written all over it. Martin Sheen plays a fatherly Police Captain that could have come off flat and cliché with less camera time, but thankfully, the film gave him enough room in which to work. Vera Farmiga, who played the wife in this year’s Running Scared, acts as the romantic interest and the third point in a love-triangle between herself, Damon and DiCaprio. My only complaint with her role is that it exists in a vacuum, having very little to no effect on the main plot as a whole. Lastly, Alec Baldwin, whose making a nice comeback through supporting work after his star appeal dwindled to nothing, and Mark Wahlberg play two foul-mouthed, zealous cops and they are a treat to watch onscreen, exchanging a litany of swear-riddled barbs fluidly and with perfect timing. Their characters aren’t the most textured, but the actors wisely resist the urge to overplay them.
Penned by William Monahan, who also wrote Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed is evocative, witty, and violent. Scorsese takes all three aspects and runs with it, especially the violence. One scene has a character falling from a building and nearly crushing another character while another scene has brain matter from several character painting the walls. A lesser director might “tastefully” keep the gore out of frame or go the other direction and indulge in it. Scorsese simply sets the camera in place and lets the scene play out in one long take. The body count of Shakespearian proportions at the end of the movie will be shocking.
I’ve never been a big fan of DiCaprio’s, but it seems like Scorsese is hell bent for leather to strike gold with him. When I think of DiCaprio, I think of angst and caps slung low over a brooding expression. Maybe it’s the way he looks. Like Matthew Broderick, he has one of those weird, perpetual baby faces that’ll keep him looking like a teenager for the rest of his life. I think, for the first time, DiCaprio has found a role that suits him in The Departed and the gold Scorsese may strike might be in the form of a little statuette that is reportedly heavier than it looks.