Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Tag line: "Cops or Criminals. When you're facing a loaded gun what's the difference?"
Trivia: Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in the title role in The Good Shepherd (2006), but he dropped out to play Billy Costigan in this movie
On the evening of February 25, 2007, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences presented their awards to the previous year’s best and brightest, one of the most egregious oversights in their history was finally corrected when Martin Scorsese received the Oscar for Best Director. The fact that the film he won for, 2006’s The Departed, was a crime movie seemed fitting, seeing as the great director has, over the years, proven himself one of the finest in that particular genre. And unlike most artists who receive an Oscar late in their career, this was no “pity win” (a la John Wayne’s Best Actor nod for 1969’s True Grit). The Academy does, on occasion, make mistakes, but in this case, the award went to the right person.
A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong action film Infernal Affairs, The Departed stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan, a detective with the Boston police force who’s chosen for a very dangerous assignment: pose as a criminal in order to infiltrate a gang of killers and thieves headed by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), perhaps the most lethal crime boss in the entire city. With only two people: Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Lt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), aware of his mission, Costigan goes deep undercover and eventually wins the confidence of both Costello and his second-in-command, Frenchy (Ray Winstone). Soon, he’s a trusted member of their gang, but what Costigan and his superiors don’t know is Costello has his own man inside the Boston PD: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who, by all appearances, is a solid member of the force (he moves into a posh neighborhood and begins dating Madolyn, a beautiful police therapist played by Vera Farmiga). However, Sullivan works solely for Costello, passing along information and tipping him off on every move the cops make. It isn’t long before both organizations realize they have a rat in their midst, putting Costigan and Sullivan in a very precarious position.
Having directed one of the best crime movies of all-time (Goodfellas) as well as a few others that border on greatness (Mean Streets, Casino, Gangs of New York), Scorsese was the perfect choice to helm The Departed, and was definitely up to the challenge. One of the things that impressed me most about the film was its solid pacing; The Departed flows brilliantly, with its 151 minutes flying by in what seems like half that time. Much of this is thanks to Scorsese’s patented style, making excellent use of the quick edits and roaming cameras he’s come to rely on over the years, but he also succeeded in drawing out the best his actors had to offer; Nicholson, DiCaprio, Damon, Sheen, Farmiga and Baldwin are all in top form, while Mark Wahlberg has never been better (his turn as the smart-ass Dignam is a definite high point). The violence, though often jarring, has an almost lyrical feel to it, and Scorsese even manages to bring us to the edge of our seats on a few occasions (a chase through the streets at night, with Costigan trying to catch a glimpse of Sullivan’s face while remaining hidden himself, is incredibly tense). As he’s done countless times in the past, Scorsese even picked the perfect songs to accompany the on-screen action (Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, performed by Van Morrison, adds depth to an intimate scene between Costigan and his therapist, Madolyn, who also happens to be Sullivan’s girlfriend). With The Departed, Martin Scorsese was firing on all cylinders, showing once again why he ranks among the finest directors of the past 50 years.
Personally, I think Scorsese should have won at least one Academy Award in each of the last four decades: along with 2006’s The Departed, he deserved the Oscar for 1976’s Taxi Driver (though the man he lost to, John G. Avildsen, did turn out a classic with Rocky); 1980’s Raging Bull (Robert Redford took the Oscar that year for Ordinary People); and 1990’s Goodfellas (when he was beaten by Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves). And I wouldn’t count Scorsese out of the current decade, either. As he proved with 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, he can still “wow” an audience. But even if the Academy again turns its back on him, at least Scorsese won it once.
...and for a movie that’s every bit as good as some of his best.