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THE DEPARTED

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin
Director:  Martin Scorsese
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  151 Minutes
Release Date:  February 13, 2007

“How’s your mother?”

“She’s on her way out.”

“We all are.  Act accordingly.”

Film ****

What do Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese have in common?  If you said that they were three of the greatest, most visionary and most influential directors in the history of motion pictures, you’d be correct.  And if you said none of the three has ever won an Oscar for Best Director, you’d be right, too.

It’s too late for Stan and Al, but Marty is still alive, still kicking, and still delivering sizzling cinematic entertainment the way many attempt to but few can pull off.  The Departed is his latest and one of his greatest; a return to the mean streets of crime, corruption and cops, but this time in Boston instead of New York.

Loosely based on the Asian film Internal Affairs, Scorsese’s movie is a taut, suspenseful and supremely satisfying drama of two cops and a gangster.  The gangster is played to over-the-top and inimitable fashion by Jack Nicholson.  As Frank Costello, he has ruled Boston’s crime scene for decades, and has a good eye for promising young talent, as we watch him pick out one young boy and groom him for a special kind of service.

That boy grows up to be Colin Sullivan (Damon), a fast-rising state police detective serving a vital interest for Costello:  as Frank’s man on the inside, Sullivan is privy to all kinds of information, keeping his boss one step ahead of the frustrated police trying desperately to bring him down.

But I said it was a tale of two cops, and the other is Billy Costigan (DiCaprio).  Unlike the seemingly immaculate Sullivan, Costigan has struggled to make it as a cop, but his crime-ridden family takes his career in a new turn:  under the tutelage of the wise Oliver Queenan (Sheen) and the brash, hilariously profane Sergeant Dignam (Oscar nominee Wahlberg), Billy will become the perfect undercover cop, with a mission to infiltrate Costello’s inner circles and help bring him down.

Two cops, each unaware of the other, each searching for the other, each trying to expose the other’s identity.  If one succeeds, it will guarantee Costello almost unlimited power.  If the other wins, Costello goes down for good. 

The brilliance of The Departed is twofold:  as a story, it’s tightly coiled, filled with suspense and surprises, and takes many gratifying twists and turns, leaving the conclusion in doubt all the way to the end.  But as a character drama, it also reigns supreme.  Leonardo DiCaprio adds to his impressive resume, becoming Scorsese’s Robert De Niro for the new millennium.  As the nervous Costigan, he spends more than a year undercover, fearing for his safety, witnessing terrible crimes, and trying to deliver the goods and get out.  He pops pills, rarely sleeps, and in just one of the films many delicious ironies, ends up a patient of a criminal psychologist (Farmiga) who also happens to be dating Sullivan.

And Matt Damon is also in fine form as the cop able to present many sides to the world.  To his fellow officers, he’s ambitious and ruthless.  To his bosses, he’s the man most likely to bring Costello down.  And to Costigan, he’s the unseen enemy that could eventually destroy him.

And Jack Nicholson is hysterical and unsettling as the aging gangster Costello, who speaks his mind and seems ever more unstable as the picture progresses.  Like many Martin Scorsese pictures, The Departed has scenes of startling on-screen violence, but none of those are as memorable as the sight of Nicholson walking into view covered with blood and asking for a mop and a bucket.

The only marginal complaint comes against the normally sure-footed veterans Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin.  Neither carries off a convincible New England accent, and both frequently slip in and out of the dialect to the point of near distraction.  Compare them to the native Bostonians Damon and Wahlberg and the difference is highly noticeable.

Oh, yes, and Wahlberg…he’s come a long way since the Funky Bunch, and in my eyes, he has proven himself as a capable actor time and time again.  Now he’s proven it to the Academy with his fast, furious and funny take on Dignam.  He gets the movie’s best lines, like his theory on how you treat Federal agents like mushrooms (“feed ‘em shit and keep ‘em in the dark”).

And lo and behold, Scorsese is up for the big prize again.  Will this be the year he scores that elusive statuette?  Fans are keeping their fingers crossed.  It seems like every so often Scorsese releases a movie that inspires everyone to say THIS is the one that will finally rectify one of Oscar’s glaring omissions.  But time and time again it doesn’t happen. 

One consolation is that if he fails to win again, we know there will be more great pictures to come.  Oscar can’t hold out forever.  Martin Scorsese is a true American classic, and so is The Departed.

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer is a knockout.  Warner scores with video quality that is sharp, detailed, rich in tones and natural colors, and impressive looking in all kinds of lighting.  From close up to far away, images are crisp and clear and well defined throughout, and I didn’t notice any artifacts or undue grain messing up the proceedings.

Audio ****

Scorsese’s great use of music continues with the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” kicking off the 5.1 audio and setting the stage for a full, dynamic presentation that ranges from quiet to violently loud with equal confidence.  Highest marks.

Features ***

Most of the extras are on the second disc, save for the original trailer.  Disc Two features 9 additional scenes with introductions by Scorsese, a featurette on the real gangster that inspired the Frank Costello character, and a look at the influence of “Little Italy” on Scorsese’s work.  Best of all is a full length Turner Classic Movies documentary “Scorsese on Scorsese”.

Summary:

Give that man an Oscar already, huh?  Martin Scorsese is an artist with nothing left to prove, and yet he continues to prove himself time and time again.  The Departed is one of his finest, and when you consider his filmography of influential masterpieces, that’s saying quite a lot.

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