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The Departed - Review

Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon in The Departed

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Additional scenes with introductions by Martin Scorsese; Feature-lenght profile – ‘Scorsese On Scorsese; Story Of The Boston Mob’ and ‘Crossing Criminal Cultures’ featurettes.

IT’S been a while since director Martin Scorsese pounded the mean streets of the contemporary gangster world but he’s back with a bang and a cast to die for in The Departed.

Essentially a remake of acclaimed Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, The Departed is a breathtaking experience in every sense of the word – and one that refuses to waste the talents of its sparkling cast.

The name’s alone are enough to have genuine movie fans salivating – Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone and, of course, Jack Nicholson.

Yet with Scorsese at the helm this is a rare treat that’s really worth taking the time to savour.

The plot is simple but incredibly tense having been relocated from Hong Kong to Boston at a time when the city is held in the violent grip of crime boss Frank Costello (Nicholson).

Desperate to end his reign, the Boston PD assign rookie recruit Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) the unenviable task of working his way inside Costello’s organisation – a mission made credible by Costigan’s loose ties to the Mob.

But at the same time they must find the mole working within their own organisation – another new recruit in the form of Colin Sullivan (Damon), a childhood protege of Costello’s who was groomed to become an informant.

Trouble is, Sullivan is so good at what he does that he rises fast within the police department and is eventually placed in charge of the unit that’s hunting Costello.

Scorsese’s film essentially explores the thin line that exists between cop and criminal, especially when staring down the barrel of a gun.

As such, it works as a fascinating character study that’s frequently punctuated by moments of extreme violence.

Serving as flipsides of the same coin are DiCaprio and Damon – the former a desperate young man driven by a desire to escape from the shadow of his family’s shady past; the latter, a calculated liar who slowly comes to realise the shallowness of his own existence.

Both DiCaprio and Damon are excellent, tapping into the angst and frustrations of their tough predicaments and both seeking solace in the arms of an attractive psychiatrist (well played by Vera Farmiga).

DiCaprio, in particular, seems to be growing in confidence with each Scorsese venture and gets the mix of bravado and vulnerability just right – appalled by, yet committed to the things he has to do in order to protect his cover.

Watching his every move are Sheen’s commander in chief, who becomes a father-figure, and his straight-talking second-in-command (Wahlberg), both of whom care in spite of their gruff exterior.

Nicholson, meanwhile, hovers like a giant over the whole of the proceedings, his scenery-chewing Costello a volatile, unstable figure steeped in violence and double-dealing.

The Departed positively crackles with the energy of his performance, infusing each scene with an extra layer of tension generated by the sheer unpredictability of his character.

Nicholson is clearly having fun in a role that’s been deliberately beefed up from the Hong Kong original and his gargantuan presence inspires everyone around him.

Scorsese, too, feels refreshingly clear of the self-imposed shackles of attempting to impress the Academy, revelling in a story that’s both deeply personal and which enables him to flex his considerable muscles for the benefit of mainstream audiences (this is his most commercial work since Cape Fear and Goodfellas).

Hence, The Departed feels refreshingly un-PC, whether in terms of what Costello is preaching (he insults priests as paedophiles and laughs out loud when a female victim “falls funny”) or in terms of violence (the film contains several moments of gasp-inducing brutality).

The overall result is a film that deserves to stand alongside the director’s very best work as a modern classic steeped in traditional values. What’s more, it sustains its momentum right up until the very last reel.

Filmmaking seldom gets better than this!

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Certificate: 18
Running time: 2hrs 31mins

  1. Killer cast, ace director and boy do they deliver. The Departed is awesome – at last, a Hollywood remake worth celebrating and seeing again and again.

    Jay    Oct 7    #
  2. Jack Nicholson deserves an Oscar for this role. This is an excellent film and proof positive that Hollywood and Scorsese does still make them like they used to!

    Steve    Oct 10    #