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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
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