This is it, folks. Itís the one youíve all been waiting for. It is a true return to form, style and relevance. It has been all too easy, almost expected, to laud Martin Scorcese pictures with praise in recent years. The man has talent and has crafted some of cinemaís landmark films, from TAXI DRIVER to GOODFELLAS. The industry was naming his last picture, THE AVIATOR, the film of the year. That seemed exaggerated, an all too safe a thing to say. To name the same of his previous epic mess, GANGS OF NEW YORK, was even more absurd. There seemed to be regret for not crowning him king earlier for more deserving efforts. The later pity praise felt apologetic instead of congratulatory. The films themselves felt manufactured for mass appeal, devoid of personal involvement and often a courting of industry acceptance. This time is different. This time Scorcese feels concise and calculated, like a man with a purpose, focus. This time Scorcese has left his hopes for accolades behind him and engineered his own cinematic rebirth. This time Scorcese says goodbye to his past and embraces THE DEPARTED.
Borrowing its intricately woven story from the 2002 Japanese film,
INFERNAL AFFAIRS, THE DEPARTED stars Leonardo Dicaprio and Matt Damon
as moles infiltrating both sides of a war between the law and organized
crime. Dicaprio plays Billy Costigan, a Boston State Policeman with a
family history entrenched in crime. As he is trying to make a new name
for his family, he is thrown back into the world he worked so hard to
escape. Costigan will go undercover and make his way into the
confidence of Bostonís biggest crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack
Nicholson). Costello, meanwhile, has his own man on the inside of the
Boston State Police, Colin Sullivan (Damon). Sullivan was brought
under Costelloís wing when he was just a boy who was doing well in
school. Both Costigan and Sullivan sought power. Costiganís power
lied in authority and changing his apparent destiny through hard work.
Sullivan was seduced by a different kind of power. He still had to
work hard but he had the muscle to back him up when he needed it.
Dicaprioís and Damonís solid performances heighten the tension and make
for insightful character studies. As Costigan, Dicaprio is anxious and
unstable. Pretending to be a brute with nothing to live for and no
reason to do bad other than it being his genetic makeup goes against
everything heís ever struggled with. His eyes flare up and his whole
body flinches every time he is around intense violence; he never seems
to get used to it. As Sullivan, Damon is a confident, cocky liar who
gets off on how many people heís fooling and just how well he is
fooling them, from his colleagues on the force (a supporting cast
consisting of Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin) to his
psychiatrist girlfriend, Madolyn (the relatively unknown and engaging
Vera Farmiga). When it becomes apparent that both teams have been
permeated, the game to catch the rat becomes tenser the closer each
gets to figuring the other out. Amidst growing suspicion and fear of
getting caught, THE DEPARTED becomes unpredictable and entrancing.
The surprisingly layered performance of Nicholson as Costello is one of
THE DEPARTEDís best features. I expected that Nicholson could pull off
a mob boss in his sleep but he brings experience and the effects of
time to the role. Like one would expect, one doesnít become a mob boss
from being a nice guy. Costello is evil right through. He finds
amusement in how a body slumps over to the side instead of forward when
he blows a bullet through the back of her head. He has grown
accustomed to getting everything he wants, to having no one stand in
his way. To some extent though, he has grown bored and complacent with
this lifestyle. He knows of nothing else but knows that alternatives
exist. He seems to live his life appreciative of his position but with
regret, or at least an awareness, that he did not make other
decisions. When he speaks of Costiganís father as a guy who could have
been a big boss if he wanted to but didnít, the acknowledgment alone
highlights the power of choice. When he tells Costigan that he should
go back to school, it highlights his own choices.
Something Costello is fond of saying is that ďNo one gives it to you;
you have to take it.Ē It is a mantra for Costello and it seems like
one for Scorcese as well regarding his approach to this film.
Scorceseís command of THE DEPARTED can be felt in the composition of
each shot, in the energy of the omnipresent soundtrack and the grasp of
the subject matter. Like Costello, Scorcese has been coasting in
recent years; the results have been passable, at times solid, but
always tired. THE DEPARTED announces Scorceseís return to making
affirmative choices again, and the right oneís at that.