In-retrospect, I don’t believe there is a single film I have postponed a review on longer than Martin Scorsese‘s crime-drama film The Departed. I can remember when I first watched the film about eight-years-ago, I can remember watching it in my college film class back five-years-ago, and, more recently, I have re-watched the film with my fiancee. As said, the film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by William Monahan, serving as a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, another film I own a copy of (the whole trilogy, in-fact), and have watched, but not yet shared my opinion on. The Departed sees Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg cast for a critically-acclaimed feature that achieved solid box-office success, grossing nearly 300 million from one-third the production budget.
The film is set in Boston as a Irish Mob boss named Frank Costello befriends a young-boy named Colin Sullivan, bringing him in under his wing, sending him through college, and later on, effectively planting him as a mole within the Massachusetts State Police. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Billy Costigan, a rough-around-the-edges trooper with a wrap-sheet from a bad neighborhood. After some coercion, they break it down as though any plans Costigan might have had in law-enforcement hinge entirely on his willingness to play ball – he, then, becomes a reluctant undercover policeman sent to infiltrate Costello’s crew.
Unlike some other films Martin Scorsese has in his repertoire, like The Irishman or Goodfellas, this is fiction with fictional characters – although Colin Sullivan is loosely based on the corrupt FBI agent John Connolly and Frank Costello is based on gangster Whitey Bulger (the man Johnny Depp played in Black Mass). The Departed mostly revolves around these two men and their reactions to each-other, both trying to find out the other’s identity.
The Departed is slick and stylish, carrying a more thematic pacing than what is sometimes found from Scorsese. The director’s often long-winded, whereas, even though The Departed clocks out at nearly two-and-a-half hours, I found it breezy and engrossing from start-to-finish. For instance, when I watched The Irishman, I found the occasional lull, despite the satisfying way the story itself culminated. The Irishman had a lot to say and needed to let everything have the chance to breathe. The Departed feels a lot faster and jam-packed. I remember the director for the 2002 original criticized the length of The Departed and said it felt like he wedged the entire Trilogy into a single film. I respect his criticism and, obviously, it only makes sense he enjoy his original film better, but I found this film trimmed the fat in a taut, balls-to-the-wall fashion.
Jack Nicholson nails it as Frank Costello, and, when I first watched this film, I wasn’t very familiar with Nicholson as an actor apart from a few choice roles, after seeing him here, I knew he was someone I needed to pursue further. Nicholson is crazy and hilarious, and it feels like a character he was born to encapsulate on screen, carrying a threatening, unhinged intensity from start-to-finish. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are particularly entertaining in their roles, offering engaging performances in their tangled web of affairs.
This is a film with an excellent cast of actors and actresses, and I think all of them brought it in satisfactory fashion, but I think this is a film, also, where the structural and high-concept foundation does a lot of heavy lifting as well. The concept is engaging, offering a dual game of cat and mouse for us to watch unfold on the screen. In a lot of ways, I think the sheer bulk of everything Scorsese wanted to do in this film might actually made him more disciplined in-terms of how scenes played out and how they were edited. A luxury that extends from the concept is it allows us to tag-out from each character’s story before anything becomes winded. Like I said, I found I was thoroughly immersed from start-to-finish, which can’t always be said, even for the best films with such run-times.
The directorial work and attention-to-detail is master-class and the story-line holds strong, and even when you’re waiting for the ball to drop, the callous and gritty unpredictably of the film entails more twists and turns are surely to come.
I really dug this film, in-fact, I would even go as far to say it’s one of my all-time personal favorites, in part because of the craftsmanship and performances, in also because of the way I am able to go back and find something new to enjoy about it. I wouldn’t say it has any all-time “best performances” from any actor or actress, even if they’re all very good, but, rather, I walk away from it with such a response because of how simply watchable and fun of a crime-drama it is.