Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by
William Monahan, based on the screenplay for the film “Infernal
Affairs”; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma
Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea;
produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner
150 minutes. Rated
R for foul language, scenes of a sexual nature, and
Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack
Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan),
Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby)
and Anthony Anderson (Brown).
You might be a cop. You might be
an undercover agent. You might be a crime kingpin, or a sexy
psychiatrist. No matter who you are, it’s like the Bob Dylan song
says… “You gotta serve somebody.”
In The Departed, Martin
Scorsese’s hyper-violent remake of the Honk Kong crime classic
Infernal Affairs, everybody has secrets, agendas, and a willingness
to pull the trigger. And underneath their carefully composed disguises,
all of them are devoted to the service of somebody—either a criminal, a
cop, the cause of justice, their family’s honor, or their own selfish
And God? Well, one of the
villains served as an altar boy, but he's left faith far behind. And
it's easy to see why: there's little evidence of God in these streets.
Does the Almighty even care about the plight of the righteous man in
this town anymore?
The question remains unspoken,
almost cynical. As Scorsese explores the mean streets of South
Boston, he doesn't find much in the way of spiritual
inquiry. Instead, he finds the cops at war with an organized crime operation run
by ruthless Irish-American thugs. And the farther he takes us into this
conflict, the more we realize that both sides are thoroughly corrupt.
Undercover operative Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is
struggling to maintain his integrity as he
works his way into the inner circle of crime kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).
He comes from a family with a sin-smudged history, and he wants to be
the exception. But the closer he gets, the more he must involve
himself in reprehensible deeds, and his hopes of
redemption grow bleaker with every step.
Meanwhile, one of Costello’s fellow conspirators,
Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has crept up in the ranks of the Boston
police to become a prominent investigator. And once
he's there, he's cocky enough to wrestle with old-timers like Captain
Ellerby of the Special Investigation Unit (Alec Baldwin, in a role
that's almost self-parody).
It’s hard to find someone worthy of our admiration
or sympathy in this fight. Attack a bad guy, and he might turn out to be
an undercover cop. Trust a good guy, he might turn out to be a villain.
How’s a guy supposed to know if he’s a “good guy” or not? And if he
makes a mighty sacrifice for the cause of justice, it might not make any
observable difference—in fact, it might only make things worse.
And when Sullivan discovers that
there's an equal and opposite bit of stealth going on in Costello's
team, the game is afoot. Which mole will expose the other? Whose cover
will be blown? It's hard to guess, but we know one thing: it's going to
end in blood.
It's not Shakespeare, but it is
a fantastically entertaining crime thriller, crackling with energy from
beginning to end. The Departed is a film of superior
craftsmanship, with dialogue as jarring and relentless as the gunfire,
cinematography that takes us on a tour of a shadowy underworld, editing
that winds up the tension to almost unbearable levels, and some of the
year’s most compelling performances.
As Costigan, DiCaprio delivers his most performance
since his legend-making turn in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? He’s
matched pace for pace by Damon, who continues his unbroken string of
impressive performances. Mark Wahlberg, in a supporting role, manages to
make an equally memorable impression. With so many talented actors
working at the top of their game, Scorsese ends up with the most
memorably compelling drama he’s made since 1995’s Casino.
But the film falls short of greatness on several
counts. First, Jack Nicholson’s outrageous over-acting becomes a
distraction. What could have been character development looks more like
Oscar-begging; what could have been a complex and fascinating study of
the criminal mind is instead, well … Jack.
Second, the film’s only prominent female
character — a sophisticated psychiatrist named Madolyn (Vera Farmiga)
implausibly reckless and unprofessional. The film celebrates her
lamentable errors in judgment as she tumbles into bed with two of her
troubled patients. While Farmiga is a charming screen presence, her
character is the film’s weakest link.
And finally, Scorsese fails to give proper
attention to the most admirable character of the bunch. Martin Sheen
plays Oliver Queenan, the chief of the Boston Police Department, and a
Catholic. In the film’s spectrum of characters caught in varying
compromises, he represents the film’s most upright and principled man.
And yet, Queenan is all but ignored, so minor that reviews in The New
York Times and The New Yorker don’t even mention him. He gets
lost in the chaos of bullets and double-crossings.
It’s a shame that Scorsese, in expanding on
Infernal Affairs, is so much more interested in embellishing his
characters' sordid behavior than he is in
examining marks of virtue and principle. The film
that inspired him was so much leaner, and directors Andy Lau and kept us
focused on the two principal characters. It feels like Scorsese's a bit
giddy with the excitement of finding wickedness under every rock, and
while that makes for a bigger, more involving film, it doesn't lend any
greater resonance to the central narrative.
This may cause concern for
anyone anticipating his next film —
an adaptation of Shazuko Endo’s
Silence, that magnificent and harrowing novel about a Christian
missionary whose faith is put to the test. The
project gives Scorsese the richest, most profound source material he's
ever had to work with. Let's hope that he finds himself more inspired by
the passion of the missionary than by the malevolence of the devils who
try to discrouage him.