Among Scorsese's Best Films, and This One Has a Plot
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson, The Departed (2006) is a dazzling crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese that is one of his best films in years. It's a highly entertaining, meticulously plotted tale about cops and gangsters based on the exciting 2002 Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. William Monahan wrote a screenplay for The Departed containing sparkling dialogue, and the film's large cast includes Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin and features an especially strong performance by Mark Wahlberg. As Scorsese has done in many other movies, he again brilliantly welds pop music to image.
But it's impossible not to compare this film with some of Scorsese's previous ones, such as Mean Streets (1973), Raging Bull (1980) and GoodFellas (1990). Those earlier movies felt personal, while The Departed is slick and commercial. And Scorsese used to deal with moral issues, a concern considerably toned down in the new film. Another difference is that his movies have traditionally been notoriously discursive, but as he quipped while accepting an award for The Departed, "This is the first picture I made with a plot."
An Undercover Cop, a Dirty Cop and a Crime Boss
In The Departed, Frank Costello (Nicholson) is a mob boss who has terrorized South Boston for years, and the Massachusetts State Police are out to take him down. They give trooper Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) an elaborate cover, and he infiltrates Costello's inner circle. But Costello has a dirty cop, Colin Sullivan (Damon), looking out for his interests. Costigan and Sullivan are like mirror images of each other, and both become romantically involved with the same woman (Vera Farmiga).
The film is pulpy, yet operatic. The plot is improbable, but clever. The acting by the entire cast is quite good, although Nicholson plays Costello so larger than life that he sometimes comes off campy. And there's a lack of earnestness to The Departed that makes it feel shallow. Still, watching it is a lot of fun.
Sparkling Dialogue and a Memorable Last Shot
The first lines heard in the film are Frank Costello stating his credo: "I don't wanna be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me."
Later, Costello advises young Colin Sullivan, "No one gives it to you. You have to take it. 'Non serviam.'" The last two words, Latin for "I will not serve," are quoted from James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
When a shrink asks Colin Sullivan, "You know what Freud said about the Irish?", he responds, "We're the only people who are impervious to psychoanalysis."
The movie, which is mainly about a pair of informers on opposite sides of the law, ends with a memorable image: a rat on a ledge with the gold-domed Massachusetts State House in the background.
The Real-Life Gangster Behind Jack Nicholson's Character
The Two-Disc Special Edition DVD set contains an informative 21-minute featurette titled "Stranger Than Fiction" that tells about Whitey Bulger, the legendary South Boston mobster on whom the film's Frank Costello was loosely based. Bulger's story is told by Boston Globe reporters, Southie residents and a retired State Police detective. A former lieutenant in Bulger's organization gives four reasons why he joined: respect, power, money and adrenaline. According to this featurette, Bulger has been on the lam since 1995 and is number two on the F.B.I.'s Ten Most Wanted List.
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