You just can’t keep a good filmmaker down. Martin Scorsese is considered one of the best (if not the best) American filmmakers alive, yet has no Oscar for Best Directing. He’s been overlooked five times by the Academy, but I predict this will be his year. This will be the year of The Departed, an excellent crime drama rife with fine performances, an engrossing story, and masterful direction. Even if it does not win Best Picture (which it probably will) Scorsese will finally get his statuette.
Due to his criminal family ties, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DeCaprio) has been recruited by the Boston Police Department to go deep undercover into the organization of local crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Costello has his own mole in the police department, the high-ranking Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Both men have the same mission: to find the spy operating in their home camp. While Sullivan is only risking jail time, Costigan constantly fears that the murderous Costello will discover who he is and slowly feed him to the fishes.
I was just in awe when watching The Departed. Scorsese has such a command over this medium that it is just wonderful to behold. His control of the camera, the editing, and what he gets out of his actors is nothing short of astounding. A good screenplay helps a lot, and we have a very layered, complex (yet easy to follow), and thoroughly engaging one from author William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven).
The cast is simply wonderful. DeCaprio (The Aviator) turns in a tense performance, as his Billy is someone who could be killed at any moment, and he looks it. Damon (Syriana) has the much less showier role, but is DeCaprio’s equal, if not his better. He is much more restrained, and we can see the wheels turning as he tries desperately to uncover who the mob leak is before he’s caught himself. Nicholson is his great oily self, relishing the part of the crazy, control freak Costello. Oh, and how about the supporting cast of Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg? Amazing.
If I have any complaints about the movie, it’s that it does contain Scorsese trademarks that can be off-putting. Explosive violence is frequent and often brutal, with blood spraying all over the place. Very crude language is also par for the course, so be prepared. The Dark Side of Man is almost always on display in a Martin Scorsese film, and it sure is here. This is definitely not the “feel good romp of the year”.
If you like Scorsese’s best stuff (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas), then you’ll feel right at home with The Departed. It’s dark, gritty, gory, intense, and completely fascinating. Let the Oscar race begin!