The Departed

The Departed

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Warner Bros. Pictures

5 stars



Martin Scorsese returns to his old tricks in “The Departed,” a gangster pic with bullets and octane overflowing in spades. Long, bloody, complex, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the pair’s best collaboration by far, this modern mobster epic can only mean one thing: Marty’s back.

When a movie is directed by Scorsese, stars DiCaprio and Matt Damon, and is produced by Brad Pitt, there are high expectations all around. “The Departed” meets them eye to eye.

The past few years have been a curious time for Scorsese. He has long been known as one of the finest American directors of the 20th century, but his last two efforts—the lackluster passion project “Gangs of New York” and the good-but-not-great “The Aviator”—lacked the movie magic of his classics “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas.” But now, with the explosive “Departed,” Scorsese delivers a film nothing short of a masterpiece in modern storytelling.

Irish-American crime lord Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, plants a mole (Damon) in the police force at the same time that the police place an undercover cop (DiCaprio) in Costello’s close-knit crime syndicate. This ingenious premise is complicated further when the two insiders both fall for the same psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga, “Running Scared”) who is unaware of their secrets.

The script by William Monahan was adapted from the hit Hong Kong movie, “Infernal Affairs.” It is a remake (after all, it does star the reigning king of recycled movies, Mark Wahlberg), but this film is deeply rooted in the Boston underworld, which helps it stand on its own.

Clocking in at over 150 minutes, this is a long and involving story to tell, but the characters are so complex and the twists are so unexpected that it flies by faster than a Will Ferrell movie. The razor-sharp dialogue is particularly top-notch, which was quite unexpected considering Monahan’s previous credits include the incredibly banal Orlando action-flick, “Kingdom of Heaven.” Wahlberg, delivering his best work since the decade old “Boogie Nights,” has half of the film’s best lines.

With more gore at its climax than even “Goodfellas” could stomach, the film makes it no secret to the viewer that Scorsese is having fun with this movie. No more period pieces or boring biographies—this shoot-em-up ganster pic is just what he and audiences needed.

Leading the uniformly terrific cast, Nicholson brings to life his most vicious character yet. Through the clouds of cocaine and the piles of bodies he leaves in his wake, Costello has no remorse, and Nicholson remains ever so cool and dry.

Oh, and then there’s Matt and Leo. Damon—in his first role as a bad guy since “School Ties”—nails the character’s cocky arrogance and, playing off his Bay State roots, delivers the best Bostonian accent in the film.

You would think one thirtysomething blond superstar would be enough. But no, DiCaprio—who has obviously replaced Robert De Niro as Scorsese’s new muse—gives a very energetic and passionate performance as well.

After his work in “The Aviator” and now in this film, DiCaprio and Scorses are definitely doing something right. Watching his face, he doesn’t resemble the young, iconic figure from “Titanic” or “Growing Pains.” It seems as though he has finally grown up.

Damon and D-Cap play two sides of the same coin. Though they never meet until the film’s climax, it’s well worth the wait. Seeing two of today’s most accomplished and talented actors together on the silver screen will take your breath away. It’s our generation’s equivalent of “Heat”’s Pacino and De Niro explosive match-up.

From the script to the cast to the film’s soundtrack, which features the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and rocked-out Irish tunes, “The Departed” is flawless from start to finish. It’s almost as if Scorsese has been asleep these past few years, and now that he’s awake, he’s brought his dream project to life.

Bottom Line: This film is beyond Oscar consideration, beyond best-of-’06 lists. “The Departed” is a modern-day classic. Enjoy.

—Reviewer Christopher C. Baker can be reached at ccbaker@fas.harvard.edu.