Review: The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)

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d. Martin Scorsese; w. William Monahan; st. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farminga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin

departed, martin scorsese, film, movie, cinema, matt damon, jack nicholson

I looked at the running time before beginning to watch Martin Scorsese’s 2006 crime-drama and thought it might be too long. My girlfriend certainly thought so – she was asleep after half an hour and woke up with about forty minutes left. As I tried to bring her up to speed with what had happened, I found myself breathlessly retelling events without a pit-stop for oxygen or chance for her to really take it all in. When I finally said, ‘so that’s it, I’ll just pause it and go for a wee,’ I realised I was on the edge of my seat (an exceptionally comfortable sofa) and had been for the past hour and a half. As I relieved myself of half a bottle of wine I knew, as I reminisced about the film, I was experiencing Scorsese’s most polished and entertaining film since “Goodfellas”.

“The Departed” concerns the stories of two recently graduated cops – DiCaprio and Damon – who end up battling, unknowingly, against each other in a world of crime, deceit, and corruption. Damon is Colin Sullivan, a ‘rat’ in the police force who works for crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). DiCaprio is Billy Costigan, a wild new police officer given the assignment to infiltrate Costello’s gang. When Costigan gets on the inside, he learns of Costello’s ‘inside man’ but can’t identify him. Likewise, Sullivan knows a cop is in Costello’s gang but hasn’t the access to find out who it is. It all plays nicely into Scorsese’s hands as he’s able to investigate once again his favourite human dynamics.

There has been talk Scorsese won the Oscar for best director because he was somehow owed it, or had earned it based on his body of work rather than the film itself. It’s easy to look at “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, and “The King Of Comedy”, as better works of cinema than “The Departed”, which eventually won him the Oscar. Yet, he is such a convincing storyteller that I believe “The Departed” deserves the gold-gong on its own merit. “The Departed” flies along like an unstoppable bullet train, leaving you breathless. He works both sides of the complex story to perfection, while presenting thoroughly convincing characters and never once allowing them to become lost in the scenery. Other less experienced directors wouldn’t be able to cope with the material and that’s where Scorsese’s genius comes out most. He has to juggle the lives of two major characters with at least five others who have almost equal importance and you never get the sense that one is under-developed or lost in an over-complicated plot. Indeed, the plot is complex, but under another’s direction could easily be convoluted. Here however, Scorsese is so in control of all facets of the story, it has to be the most polished film he’s ever produced.

Scorsese’s passion for cinema is obvious in “The Departed”. The film is almost a nostalgia trip for the director. He keeps his camera restrained throughout, allowing the dialogue, story and performances to maintain audience attention, but the assuredness he shows in switching from Costigan’s story to Sullivan’s is one of a man perfectly in tune with his art. He has fun with the story and doesn’t allow the usual big-budget Hollywood conventions to constrain him. Without doubt, the director is having as much fun making the film as the audience is watching it.

With a director like Martin Scorsese, who has a body of work unsurpassed by any of his contemporaries, you do find yourself comparing subsequent films with those of his past. For me, “The Departed” is undoubtedly his best work of recent times, fixing the flaws that – only slightly – marred his work since “Casino”. Instead of the brooding, bleak cynicism of the otherwise brilliant “Bringing Out The Dead”, the indulgent, sentimentalism of “Gangs Of New York”, or the obvious Hollywood sensibilities of “The Aviator”, this film offers the director at his unadulterated best, let loose on everything he loves about cinema. “The Departed” is made for an audience that loves genre films and high-octane, cinematic theatre.

Top10Films Rating: 9/10
Review by Dan Stephens
Editor, Top10Films

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Encore Entertainment Reply

    It’s weird, though I still love The Departed I will always resent lack of love for The Aviator 🙂

    Lovely review, of course.

  2. Avatar
    Rory Dean Reply


    I stumbled upon your comment elsewhere, I believe for a review of the Ladykillers over at and followed it here. I wanted to chime in regarding The Departed as a film and Scorsese as an American film director. First off, The Departed was indeed a thrill ride from start to finish, a solid script with remarkable actors who deliver the goods in ways that lesser actors would have failed. I’m not a big fan of DeCaprio but his performance here was perhaps his best in a long while – I think his best work was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries, but that’s just me. Jack Nicholson was perfect here and by far the foundation upon which every other actor and the story itself rested. Matt Damon was not only believable but shined in contrast to the power players he’s come accustomed to in the Bourne films and it was a pleasure to see him and Nicholson play off one another. I agree with your thoughts on Scorsese’s previous work since Goodfellas but must point out Cape Fear in 1991 and Casino in 1995 were also very good films and kept his relationship with Robert De Niro alive and well – De Niro and Scorsese have been brilliant together. I also think Bringing out the Dead and Gangs of New York were vastly inferior films and would even go so far as to suggest they were failures. Thanks for the read -> if time permits, drop by and see my movie blog at cheers

  3. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    I always make time for this movie regardless of what else is on. Some say Scorsese won the Oscar as a make up, but The Departed was the best film of that year.

  4. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Very good movie that I don’t mind watching every now and then. As with most Scorsese movie, everyone here shines and it’s a pleasure to see all those actors at their best.

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    James Ewing Reply

    I agree. It is just that good and he deserved the Oscar.

    And, like you alluded to in the beginning, this film is such an engaging watch that the length never becomes an issue. I can pop this sucker in at any time and the next two and a half hours just fly by.

  6. Avatar
    Olive Reply

    Loved this movie and I agree Scorsese definitely earned that Oscar. I watched it again recently and was as impressed as the first time I watched it.

  7. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Encore: I probably need to see The Aviator a second time but I wasn’t a big fan of it the first time. It’s since The Aviator that I’ve started to like DiCaprio as an acto (maybe because of this the film is worth another go).

    @Rory: Interesting thoughts Rory…in regards to Bringing Out The Dead, it has actually risen up my list of favourite Scorsese films. In fact, it might be ahead of some of his more renowned classics now. Gangs of New York is another that I liked more the second time around. That’s probably the reason I bet getter watching The Aviator again.

    @Fitz/James/Olive: Yeah, he definitely deserved the Oscar on merit alone. But if The Departed is deserving on the Academy’s highest acclaim what of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas! 🙂

    @Castor: It’s just pure entertainment isn’t it. Great story, engrossing, great characters/performances.

  8. Avatar
    Encore Entertainment Reply

    Not to plug myself (lies) but tune in tomorrow for a bit of The Aviator.

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