The Departed

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Departed
  • IMDB: link

Martin Scorsese has given American cinema some great films.  Who could forget Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino?  His recent films however have recieved a mixed reaction.  The Aviator was exqusite and sleek, but lacked the heart and soul of the film it must always be compared to, given its subject matter, Citizen KaneGangs of New York was brutal and honest, but some unfortunate miscasting and near week-long running time was a little too much to bear.  And most critics agree 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead was, at least in a small way, a blunderous misstep.

Here Scorsese returns to a cops and maifa story, re-uniting with DiCaprio, and giving us a tale of intrigue and thrills that relies more on story than gun play, and more on character than body count (at least until the last 20 minutes).  The result?  It’s his best film in years.

The film follows two new members of the Boston State Police Department fresh from the academy and put to work in Boston.

The first is the respectable, top of his class, hard working Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon).  He’s got a great girlfriend, a lady psychologist named Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), is loved by his boss (Alec Baldwin), and is being fast tracked to promotion, wealth, and fame.  What no one in the department knows is Collin is the mole everyone’s looking for.  Since he was a young kid he’s worked for the #1 Irish gangster the State Police are after, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

The second leading chacter is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who immeadiately after graduating the academy was pulled in by Undercover department head Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Digman (Mark Wahlberg).  Billy goes undercover as a angry, violent, depressed young man thrown off the force.  After a short stint in jail, he infiltrates Costello’s operation and tries to bring it down.

Scorsese does a good job setting up and balancing these two stories.  After the set-up the cat-and-mouse games keeps everyone, including the audience, on their toes, and once again he keeps you guessing what will happen.  The Departed is one of his best films in recent memory, but it does have it’s flaws.

The first flaw is the coincidental relationship between Billy and Madolyn, who he’s sent to as part of his probation.  The subplot gives some dramatic moments, but it smacks of coincidence and drags a little over the course of the film, especially when the two become emotionally involved.

The second, and bigger flaw, of the film is its ending.  With such a wonderful measured set-up Scorses blows his wad in the final reel and bodies start falling.  If the whole film had been in this vein it wouldn’t seem so odd.  As it is, the film shifts dramatically from a violent intellectual thriller into a violent shoot-em-up.  This is so unsatisfying it will leave you with a slightly sour taste in your mouth.

Still, despite this two issues, the film suceeds.  The script, adapted by William Monohan from the 2002 Hong Kong film Mou gaan dou, despite the trip to wackocrazyfuntown in the last reel, is terrific.  The acting is first rate and Damon and DiCaprio carry the film.  The best performances are the small supporting roles from the likes of Wahlberg, Nicholson, Sheen, and Alec Baldwin – who easily earns himself an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

It’s not the best picture of the year, but there’s a strong possibility of it making my top 10 films of 2006.  The performances, the direction, and the story are all first-rate.  It does break down in the end, but there’s enough there to enjoy and take away from the film that most fans of Scorsese’s work ,or crime films, will find much to appreciate.

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