Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone and Jack Nicholson
Plot: Billy Costigan (Di Caprio) is an informant working for the police, while Colin Sullivan (Damon) is a mole in the same department, feeding information to mobster, Costello (Nicholson). Both spies are tasked with taking each other out.
Martin Scorsese has been granted with the title of ‘Master of the Mobster’. His impressive filmography makes it easy to see why. He has always been a bit hit and miss with me, but while a few of his pictures did little for me, there are a dozen more that are worthy classics. The Departed is one of his most talked about successes. It focuses more on the police side of things than the mob, which makes it a bit isolated from Casino and Goodfellas. The movie is an insight into how the lives of two moles unravel, as they lead lives that require them to lie and disconnect from everyone they know.
Scorsese’s direction is key here. There are several touches that constantly remind you that you are watching a Scorsese picture. The moment the movie opens with Nicholson delivering a pitch perfect monologue, instantly followed with Rolling Stones singing us through the introduction scenes, we are hooked on what we are seeing. The soundtrack, as it always is with a Scorsese, is vibrant and effective, especially when he starts embracing the Irish American side of music. I like the whole Boston theme too with every actor putting in a credible accent that flows so easily from everyone, you forget that they are even putting on an accent. Violence is another trademark here, as the movie never cuts away from the gory, sudden headshots. This might dissuade a few viewers that want a gentler movie experience, but it does make certain beats of the Departed stay with you long after they have ended. The pacing flows smoothly too. This movie’s main downfall is that there is a lot to get through, especially as, like most of the Scorsese epics, they have a long time frame to lead us through. There are some neat moments where Scorsese would play certain scenes on top of each other, often accompanied with one of those gripping choices of soundtrack, making this viewing much better. Despite the bloated 151 minute running time, every frame is important, even if it does little more than show off one of the supporting cast acting.
My previous explorations into the director’s filmography usually focuses on a certain character and then depicts every part of their life. For example, Taxi Driver honed in on Travis Bickle and The Wolf of Wall Street gave us Jordan Belfort. The Departed is different, because it is much more of an ensemble piece. Leonardo Di Caprio, on paper, is the star power here, as the cop buried so deep in his undercover work as a criminal that he is beginning to lose touch of his own identity. However, the film never rests on his shoulders, as it has been with ‘Shutter Island’ or ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Matt Damon shares the lead character duties; while Damon portrays a bad guy figure, he has his own narrative that you get so caught up with that it is only by the end, where you begin to remember that he is the character that is being the most detrimental to most of the other characters in the story. There are also several other strong characters holding up the motion picture. We aren’t relying on one performance to get us through the film, because there are so many interesting characters on show here. I could talk about Leonardo Di Caprio doing the usual trick of pouring so much energy and emotion into a by-the-books character that he becomes a cult figure or I could rave about one of the finest Nicholson villains out there. But that would take away from the supporting cast’s achievements. Alec Baldwin is great in every moment he is on-screen, Vera Farmiga (while her romantic scenes are a tad under-developed) is a strong character and Mark Wahlberg delivers one of the best performances I have ever seen from him. Everyone puts their all into the movie and it makes the Departed a must-see piece of cinema.
I still wouldn’t put it up there with one of Scorsese’s finest. The climax is a great pay-off, making it worth every minute spent watching the build-up, but I felt it was handled too suddenly. It is almost as though Scorsese needs to start wrapping things up and then he delivers the bloody deaths one after the other. Don’t get me wrong, some of the twists and plot developments were brutally brilliant. If you haven’t had the movie spoilt for you, then you will be transfixed at watching you are watching. However you suspect the movie will play out, it does the complete opposite and totally throws you. The problem is that it never revels in the moment. The sudden killing off of a character is a neat trick at first, but Scorsese overuses it – sometimes in the same scene. The ending will either leave you grinning from ear to ear, or will seem like a tad anti-climatic. It does give one of the more under-used characters a good moment to bow out of the film from, but it does reek of putting a nice bow on an otherwise clever gangster thriller. Good, but you want it to enjoy its ending that little bit more.
Final Verdict: The Departed is a fantastic ensemble piece, where everyone works to make this classic really stick in the memory. A fine entry to the Cops and Robbers genre.