The Departed Review
By Joe Lozito
It must be hard to be Martin Scorsese. When you've made the top ten lists for the 70s ("Taxi Driver"), 80s ("Raging Bull") and 90s ("Goodfellas"), as well as countless other contributions to the cultural zeitgeist, what do you do next? Well, if you're Martin Scorsese you dabble a bit in period pieces ("Gangs of New York"
) and biopics ("The Aviator"
) and spend some time breaking in a new muse (Leonardo DiCaprio), often with mixed results. At last, after a decade-long lull, all those pieces fall into glorious place in "The Departed", Mr. Scorsese's remake of the 2002 Chinese cop drama which is probably the director's most taut piece of storytelling since "Goodfellas".
Mr. Scorsese leaves his comfort zone, trading the mean streets of New York for the equally dangerous alleys of Boston. Naturally, it takes some time to get used to the rampant Bah
ston accents, but forgoing the violent excesses of "Cape Fear" and the bloated dalliances of "Casino", "The Departed" is Mr. Scorsese at his most stripped-down best. The story revolves around two Irish cops: one is the seemingly straight-laced Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) whose quick rise in rank is thanks in no small part to his work as an informant for mafia kingpin Frank Costello. The other is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), one of those hard-luck, no-family men whose ability to disappear into the woodwork makes them perfect for undercover work. No sooner does Costigan join the force than he is chosen to infiltrate Costello's mob.
While the latter half of the script by William Monahan ("Kingdom of Heaven"
) follows the blueprint of the original, the lengthy opening sequences spend more time building up the characters - particularly Costello, played with age-defying glee by Jack Nicholson. How does Jack do it? Approaching 70, the actor still turns in one of his most memorable performances. With wild, graying hair and wicked charm, his Frank Costello is a perfect addition to the canon of memorable screen mobsters. Mr. Damon is also spot-on as the two-faced Sullivan. He's like a grown-up Will Hunting, without the "good".
Mr. DiCaprio's charm is well intact, but it's hard to buy him as a brutish tough guy. One can't help but wonder, as Costigan mercilessly attacks two Mafioso thugs, how a young Robert De Niro might have played that role. Still, this is the actor's most mature performance, and his best partnership yet with the director.
Also having a great time with the material are Alec Baldwin, as a potbellied blowhard and Mark Wahlberg, who all but bursts through the screen as the foul-mouthed, no nonsense officer Dignam.
As the film goes on, it never quite reaches the manic, inevitable energy of the original, and the love story also feels a bit convenient and inflated despite the wonderful performance by Vera Farmiga. Still, the film contains more moments of pure Scorsese power than we've seen in years. With "The Departed", Mr. Scorsese proves, when it comes to gangland storytelling, nobody does it better. And, whatever he chooses to do next, he's still worth watching.