In the months leading up to Oscar season, Hollywood has churned out several awful films. The summer of 2006 had very few highlights. What began as a slow year, however, is beginning to pick up some momentum. Hitting with a bang is Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” an Americanized version of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs.” While other heavy dramas have failed either commercially or critically, “The Departed” succeeds, and may be the film that finally lands Scorsese that long-deserved “Best Director” Oscar. The film defies the standard of many crime movies and is Scorsese’s best film since 1990’s “Goodfellas.” After epic turns with “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” “The Departed” delivers a beautifully crafted crime-drama that brings Scorsese back to his gritty roots. With an all-star cast, a thought-provoking script, and the best acting of the year, “The Departed” looks to be, not only the best film of 2006, but one of the best films in Scorsese’s repertoire. “The Departed” takes place in South Boston, where the state police are waging a war on organized crime. Their prime target is Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a ruthless crime-boss. In order to bring him down, the police have sent new-recruit William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) undercover to investigate Costello. However, Costello has already placed a rat in the Special Investigation Unit, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who is slowly gaining clout in the police department. Soon, both sides begin a race-against-time to find who the rat is.
The strongest point of the film is the brilliant acting, particularly by Nicholson. Always incredible, Nicholson embodies evil as Costello. The audience truly detests him, which makes the character perfect. Nicholson relishes the role and just makes him more detestable as the film goes on. DiCaprio is equally impressive. His Boston accent is spot on and his turn from teen-heartthrob to gritty dramatic actor is uncanny. His last three films he has done with Scorsese have all shown off his talent, but his work in “The Departed” is his best.
Damon also delivers, but is overshadowed by the other two and eventually becomes forgettable. Damon isn’t bad, but he is not on the same level as DiCaprio and Nicholson. Also in the film are Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga. “The Departed” defies the odds and delivers an exceptional film, even with a bloated cast. Some films have tried that this year and failed miserably (i.e. “All the King’s Men”).
Scorsese’s ability to direct has never come into question. He is just as powerful now as he was in 1990 with “Goodfellas.” In “The Departed,” Scorsese harkens back to the classic hard-boiled detective film. The good guys and the bad guys are clearly defined, leaving very little room for middle-men. The pacing is perfect with plenty of character development and establishment. Scorsese follows Damon and DiCaprio from the Police Academy and follows their rise in the force. Right at the beginning, Scorsese paints a beautiful picture of Costello’s character and sets the tone of the film, shooting the opening in shadows. The most powerful moment comes when Costello says, “When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals. What I’m saying is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” This line sets up the theme of the film. Scorsese also keeps the violence and language brutal, adding to the realism, something he has done his entire career. If I am going to see a gangster movie, I want to see violence and hear endless swearing, and Scorsese delivers in spades.
“The Departed” is a welcome break from the garbage that Hollywood has fed the public during 2006. It is a brilliantly crafted film with amazing acting and directing. He delivers on so many levels and brings us the best film of 2006. If you find some spare time and money, go see “The Departed.” You will not regret it.