By Marc S. Sanders
Martin Scorsese finally won his Best Director Oscar with the 2006 Best Picture The Departed, from a script written by William Monahan. The film is a remake of a Hong Kong crime drama called Infernal Affairs.
Also known as the one film in Scorsese’s library with a linear plot, The Departed depicts the stories of two guys who grew up in the south end of Boston and joined the police academy to serve. Only difference is one is recruited to go undercover within the Irish mob, while the other is recruited by the same mob to become a highly respected police officer and supply an unlimited wealth of information to his criminal boss.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the undercover cop Billy Costigan. Matt Damon is the criminal cop Colin Sullivan. Jack Nicholson is the Irish mob boss in the middle, Frank Costello.
The Departed works because Scorsese and Monahan allow the audience in on every deceit playing against the characters. Pleasantly surprising is that there are even twists to this layered story, and cellular flip phones assist all the players with trying to remain in hiding or hoping to one up and trap the other. However, because everyone is getting tipped from their own respective sources, people are either not ending up dead, or arrested or caught red handed. As Costigan builds his case against Costello, Sullivan is worming his way to protecting his cover in the police force while also tipping off his true boss.
Performances from DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson are what you’d expect. Nicholson is chewing the scenery again appearing like the devil incarnate while hamming up the facial expressions. Damon is great at playing it like the Boy Scout cop in well-tailored suits, clean shaven and flirtatious within his department and earning respect among his peers, that is until it all seems to unravel. DiCaprio is wired as the cop who needs to show he’s a dangerous hood to be trusted among the mob cohorts. However, he’s getting more paranoid and unwound at the risk of being made.
Thelma Schoonmaker (one of my favorites) does a balanced approach edit to showing a parallel among the cops. She will insert a happening of Costigan for a snippet and then segue to Sullivan appearing to do honest police work, or reaching out to Costello with a warning of what’s coming for him.
Great support also comes from Ray Winstone as Costello’s right hand man, and Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson and Martin Sheen, all within the police department.
Ironically, the one Oscar nominated performance was bestowed upon Mark Wahlberg and I grew tired of his presence quickly as the cop who berates Costigan endlessly with yelling and fast one liners that involve someone’s mother. Could we just move on from this please?
I also found Vera Farmiga as a police psychologist to be mostly unnecessary until a contrived ending point needed to arrive. Her character naturally has affairs with both Damon and DiCaprio, who also attend her office for sessions. Of course they do! Whenever the film sidetracks to one of them with Farmiga, The Departed stalls for a moment. Her character carries no stake in the plot line and offers no further dimension to DiCaprio and Damon’s characters.
The film works best as the complications compound on each other. A great moment occurs between the cops when one of them picks up a bloody cell phone to dial back the most recent call. Silence on both ends of the line, and the moment just plays out until someone speaks or hangs up.
Moments like that is suspense similar to when a man is intruding in a dark house. However, this is suspense delivered by Martin Scorsese, and Martin Scorsese will film suspense that is anything but typical. Martin Scorsese’s suspense leaves you breathless.