When you think about Martin Scorsese, The Departed isn’t necessarily the first film that comes to mind, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong amongst his best work.
The Departed is vintage Scorsese, let’s get that right out of the way. The fact that it was a remake of a 2002 Hong Kong film, Internal Affairs, doesn’t change that. After you watch it, except for the fact that the plot gets a little more clever than Marty usually does, it’s exactly the kind of material Scorsese excels at: gangsters being gangsters and cops trying to bring them down.
The Departed is set in Boston, Massachusetts and stars Jack Nicholson as Irish mob boss Frank Costello, who plants a mole within the Massachusetts state police. The mole, Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon is furthering his policing career while supplying Costello with information to help him avoid arrest. Meanwhile, state police have recruited Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), before he graduates from the police academy, to go undercover and infiltrate Costello’s crew.
Despite being a remake, the specifics of the story were loosely based on notorious gangster Whitey Bulger and corrupt FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up with Bulger.
The film has a ridiculously good cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga and Alec Baldwin in supporting roles. The symmetry that is created by the two main characters each infiltrating one organization while working for the other is a thing of beauty.
There’s plenty of realistic violence and the hard-nosed language expected of a Scorsese picture, but you also get the wonderful dialogue expected, too. The cast is sharp and the scenes involving the state cops are especially entertaining, but let’s be honest, could there be anything better than Jack Nicholson in a role like this? directed by Scorsese? The cast is a stellar one, but it starts at the top, and there’s no question who’s at the top.
In sports, I love when guys who were formerly big stars take lesser roles late in their careers on a championship contender in search of a ring — that’s the best analogy I can come up with for guys in movies like Alec Baldwin who couldn’t carry a movie alone but in an ensemble like this one, he shines.
The movie twists and turns, keeps you guessing where it’s headed and is both tense and funny at times and it was his performance in this picture that solidified DiCaprio’s place in my good books after years of disliking him1.
To top it all off, the movie sticks the landing by having a really fantastic ending. So many times a movie or TV show ends and I feel I’ve been pandered to — like I’ve been given the ending people want rather than the ending the story deserves2. This is easily one of my favourite movies and it has the Oscars to back it up: The Departed won four Academy Awards: for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Because it was, inexplicably, Scorsese’s first Oscar win, The Departed has actually been harshly remembered, if that makes sense. There was such an outcry for Scorsese to finally win that many have said afterwards that it was more a Lifetime Achievement award than a real victory. If you were arguing whether or not a best picture winner could be underrated, The Departed would make excellent evidence in favour of the argument.