The Departed (2005) (R)
"The Departed" is one of the few pictures in the Academy history that hasn't been a straight-forward drama and still has managed to win the Best Picture. No real other thriller has managed to claim the title, the closest we can come is "The French Connection" and that's blurring pretty much all the lines.
It's also unique because it is the only Scorsese movie to win Best Picture and the director's only win for Best Director. Yet seen only as a movie that the Academy chose to honor because they felt sorry for Scorsese and his previous losses, you lose much of what makes the movie great.
"The Departed", with its macabre title in tow, is based on the Chinese thriller "Infernal Affairs" and was adapted for American theaters by William Monahan.
What remains is the story of men searching for justice, men in it for themselves, and the collapse and rise of the justice system.
Set in Boston, a city of rats, where corruption thrives, "The Departed" is so manically quick and ruthlessly lax about its time frame that it takes a few minutes to get a coherent narrative.
So we have Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), the biggest and baddest crime boss in Boston and the one that the local police are trying to topple, unsuccessfully. They have been fighting that war for many years with no fruits for their labor. No men are more keen to try to put Costello behind bars than Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) who run the undercover section of the police force and are tight lipped about their agents, to the point where they rub some of the other officers the wrong way, namely Ellerby (Alec Baldwin).
Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) grew up on the streets under the guidance of Costello and has since been in his pocket, even throughout the police academy. Now that he is assigned onto the force with Costello in cahoots, he quickly climbs the ladder and soon oversees a small team of men.
Then we have Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a nobody and another graduate of the police academy. Bullied into submission and with the thought that he is doing some amount of good, Billy decides to be Queenan and Digman's man undercover. He has to go to prison and then he slowly makes connections to try to infiltrate Costello's nest.
We see the differences in suffering and the unfairness of it all. As Billy slaves away for what is "right" in the end, often breaking his own bones to make his name known, we also see Colin gliding along on the good life, earning nothing and winning everything.
As the audience, it's hard to empathize with Colin, near impossible, but the rapid editing and quick scene changes from one character to the other leaves no room for boredom. In fact, there's so much going on in "The Departed's" two-and-a-half-hour running time and still the story feels somewhat incomplete. But make no mistake, the story is finished, and the resulting questions you may have only emphasize what Scorsese has made his movie about.
It's nice to have a break from a character study and with this one, Scorsese firmly sets himself up above the rest of his contemporaries. Though the die-hard fan will tell you that "Taxi Driver" or "Goodfellas" marks the top of the director's oeuvre, you have to consider "The Departed" for its sheer joy and pleasure to watch. It's certainly the most approachable of anything Scorsese has done that fits into his crime category.
As we dance from one character to the next, tensions running high, it becomes about the relay of information. Who knows what and why? As it becomes clear that moles sit in both camps—the police and the mafia—Costello and Queenan are both trying to figure out the other one's head.
Yet for all its depressive and unexpected turns, "The Departed" is quite optimistic with the idea of justice, though that doesn't seem evident at first.
"The Departed" features strong performances from it's all boys cast, with an unexpected turn by Vera Farmiga who plays a psychiatrist that falls in love with Colin. It's all a mess of information, a rapid turning rat's nest that is the most fun you could possibly ask for in a movie.
It's not for the faint of heart, but Scorsese never was. With the Boston accent thick in the air and corruption so strong you can taste it, watch "The Departed" for its plot...a rare thing to see in Scorsese.
Posted by Micah Jones