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The Departed

2006 crime thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese

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The Departed - A Welcome Back Party for Martin Scorsese

  • Mar 10, 2007
Pros: Jack Nicholson playing the gangster

Cons: Robert De Niro not playing the gangster

The Bottom Line: It's been too long since the last gangster flick of this caliber.

Forget everything you ever knew about Martin Scorsese’s gangster movies right now. Just forget everything. Forget New York City, and forget about Robert De Niro too. Forget about all the droning voice-over narrations, the working class trench gangsters, and the corrupt police officers. (Okay, maybe not so much the corrupt officers.) Forget about the idea that greed is what will ultimately do gangsters in. Forget the Italians as the infallible kings of the cinematic mafia. Forget it all, dismiss it all as last millennium’s news. It’s time to embrace the mafia possibilities of the 21st century: The Irish mafia. The city of Boston. Gangsters being done in by the anger of those at some other end of the complex, gray system we’ve come to know as “law.” Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s become a pretty good – if not a great – actor.

The Departed is a very appropriate title for Martin Scorsese’s newest gangster movie, because it represents a true departure for his gangster movies. The change may shock a lot of hardcore Scorsese fans. Admittedly, while I wasn’t expecting the worst, I was questioning what Scorsese could have seen beyond the wiseguys he knew so well. I needn’t have worried. The Departed opens with a brief voice-over monologue from Jack Nicholson, playing the role Robert De Niro probably would have played had The Departed been made ten years ago. The monologue was nicely complimented by the presence of the classic Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter. Just as with the song, the movie sucks you in right from the opening chord. After those first few scenes, there is no turning back.

It’s been twelve years now since Martin Scorsese last worked with Robert De Niro. It’s easy to wonder why Scorsese didn’t cast his pinch-hitting gangster to play Frank Costello, his don of the hour in The Departed. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, and the more I realized De Niro would have been completely wrong for the part of Costello. Think of De Niro’s most well-known gangster characters and what made them memorable. De Niro’s most popular gangster characters have often had some kind of sympathetic element to them. Vito Corleone had a strong sense of social justice. Jimmy Conway was a nice guy who publicly conducted himself like a gentleman. Sam Rothstein seemed to have an underlying desire to be legitimate. De Niro’s gangsters are more anti-hero than actual villain, and you understand the unique ticks and complexities of each one.

With Frank Costello, however, there are no such sympathies or redeeming qualities. Costello is a purely evil, dominating villain who breaks his new guy’s hand while it’s still healing from a previous injury. He plays around with a severed, bloody hand in plain sight. He shares his straight-shooting mistress with his state police mole. He has his own evil little twist which would spoil the movie a bit if I gave it away. So he is played by Jack Nicholson with a steely, calculating coldness we’ve seen in all the great Nicholson characters.

The Departed revolves around how Costello’s gang and the police infiltrate each other. It’s a simple good against evil matchup, but complicated by the fact that the lines between good and evil are completely erased. At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Colin Sullivan, a newly minted member of the Massachusetts State Police. Sullivan is an upstanding model citizen with a nice apartment, a gorgeous girlfriend (who is also Costello’s mistress), and the aforementioned state job with all the great benefits. He is also Costello’s mole, and he regularly tips off his real boss using a simple mom-and-pop dialect to get his message across in front of his police chiefs. We also meet Billy Costigan, a recently paroled criminal and Costello gang member afflicted with paranoia and insomnia. Truly, his role fits him like a glove as he is really an undercover cop. When the movie begins, these two moles have both crossed their respective lines of the law, Matt Damon playing Sullivan with an All-American boy flavor, and Leonardo DiCaprio playing Costigan with a violent grittiness. Both do such a fine job as moles that the audience would never rewalize what was going on if not for Costigan and Sullivan being given regular scenes where they report to their real bosses. Sullivan just seems too upstanding, and Costigan too violent.

Eventually both sides figure out they’re being infiltrated by the other. At this point, The Departed changes from a Raging Bull-like character study into a Cape Fear-like thriller as a precise, deadly game of chess is played. Secrets and twists are revealed and the true character of both moles begins to shine through. Damon in particular plays out his role exceptionally well as The Departed appears to slowly shift its focus to him. Forced in one mesmorizing scene to play both of his sides off of each other, Damon lends an eerie silence to his character which allows him to haunt the scene without ever breaking his All-American presence. Though he’s been the bad guy throughout the movie, it’s during the last half in which you begin to really despise him.

The Departed is about lies and their consequences more than anything. All three of the main characters are liars who lie at the most extreme level they can get away with. All three end up suffering the consequences. The movie seems to take its sweet time to let the anti-lying message sink in, however, instead of recklessly racing toward its climax like most other thrillers. It’s a very refreshing change from all the Silence of the Lambs imitators because it lets the horror of the scenario sink in. Thanks to the plot, Scorsese doesn’t have to use the common, cheap atmosphere-creating tricks – silhouettes, darkness, creaking, heavy breathing. You merely meet the characters and watch with fascination as they slowly become trapped in their situations. There are ni invisible forces, there are just characters forced to endure the consequences of the spider web they’ve created for themselves.

It’s worth noting that with The Departed, Martin Scorsese finally won the Oscar he’s deserved since Mean Streets. Though his triumph comes off as more of a lifetime achievement award than a legitimate victory, he deserves all the credit in the world for The Departed. It’s easily his best movie since Goodfellas, his most daring since Gangs of New York, and with it he sails into uncharted waters using what he knows best. It isn’t as good as his 1990 gangster masterpiece, but if you’ve gotten bored with Casino or you suffered though The Age of Innocence or Bringing Out the Dead, you owe it to yourself to see The Departed. If you’re a snob who will only watch Oscar-hyped movies, you should see The Departed. If you have the slightest little interest in movies at all, see The Departed.


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More The Departed reviews
review by . August 13, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Martin Scorcesse is one of Hollywood's most beloved directors.  When he made himself well known with Taxi Driver in the 70's (another fine film).  The Departed is far from being Martin Scorcesse's best film, but it is among the best (Goodfellas and Raging Bull are still better).  The Departed is a very stylistic movie.  For those who are bothered by violence (and if you are why on earth are you watching a Martin Scorcesse film anyway?) there's quite a bit in it.  Also, as …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A modern classic. Great script and great performences. Leo is amazing. You cant beat Jack Nicholson.
Quick Tip by . July 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The story itself did not feel like anything new but the directing and editing kept the tension high throughout the film. Everyone in the cast gave powerful deliveries and the Scorsese did an incredible job. I just don't know if it deserved best picture of the year.
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Departed is a pretty fun movie to watch, even if there are many parts of it that are especially brutal. It's a very violent, very bloody film that drops so many F-bombs it's not even funny. But it is good and there is a sense of humor there, even if some of it is rather bleak.
review by . April 11, 2009
The story is set in Boston's brutal underworld, where Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is the all-powerful crime boss. He has mentored a young man (Matt Damon) through the police academy and now he's both a State Trooper and a member of the mob, while the Staties have their own man (Leonardo DiCaprio) working inside Costello's organization.     This movie is not for the squeamish; there are almost non-stop bloody killings and barely a line of dialogue that is isn't full of profanities. …
review by . November 11, 2007
Pros: Outstanding cinematography; compelling story-line; outstanding acting and direction.     Cons: Oh the profanity.     The Bottom Line: All-n-all The Departed was an enjoyable film and well worth seeing a second or third time, you know to catch what you may have missed the first or second viewing.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I grew up in New England for the most part, in Newport, Rhode …
review by . June 08, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Witty, gritty, thrilling... the best gangster film I've seen in years.      Cons: A bit of a Deus ex machina ending, some predictable moments...negligable really.     The Bottom Line: Without a doubt the best Gangster flick I've seen in ages.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. "I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. Years ago we had the …
review by . April 28, 2007
Having heard so many good things about this film, I had to see it for myself. I won't give a plot summary of the film, as it has been done to death, instead I'll let you know the highs and lows for me.      There are a lot of great quotes and lines throughout the movie. One of the first is the one I used as a title for this review, meaning "I will not serve" by James Joyce, from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Another is "The Irish are the only …
review by . March 21, 2007
It's no secret that "The Departed" is a remake of the successful Hong Kong movie. I've watched it several months ago and was very impressed. After watching "The Departed", I realized that I wanted watch it again. It is a completely new movie, spiritually. The affiliation in the screenplay to the original one is unavoidable, but Martin Scorsese did a great job in substantiating the cop and criminal story with his own interpretation.    This is probably different from other Martin …
review by . March 02, 2007
Cursed are those unfortunate souls who decide to experience the original version of something before experiencing the remake, be it an adaptation of a novel or, in the case of Martin Scorsese's THE DEPARTED, a remake of a previous masterpiece. That masterpiece was 2002's MOU GAAN DOU, or INFERNAL AFFAIRS, directed by Lau Wai Keung and Mak Siu Fai. The premise of the two films is the same, but the styles of the respective films are vastly different. I am one of the unfortunate souls who watched INFERNAL …
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Martin Scorsese makes a welcome return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) withThe Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film sinceCasino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thrillerInfernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim,The Departedis also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying thatThe Departedis a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costello's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and ...
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