Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#1,486. The Departed (2006)

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 an Oscar for Best Director. The fact that the film he won it 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 Academy Award late in their careers, this was no “pity win” or lifetime achievement Oscar a la John Wayne’s Best Actor nod for 1969’s True Grit (The Duke was good, but Midnight Cowboy's Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman were better). The Academy does, on occasion, make mistakes, but in the case of Scorsese and The Departed, the award went to the right guy.

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 has been selected for a very dangerous assignment: pose as a criminal and infiltrate a gang of killers and thieves headed by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), the city's most lethal crime boss. 

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). Before long, 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 P.D., Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who, by all appearances, is a solid member of the force. He's promoted to detective, moves into a posh neighborhood, and begins dating Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a police therapist. But Sullivan reports solely to Costello, passing along information and tipping the gangster off on every move the cops make. 

It isn’t long before both organizations realize there's a rat in their midst, putting Sullivan and especially Costigan in a great deal of danger.

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 director to helm a film like 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 seemingly half that time. This is due almost exclusively to Scorsese’s patented style, the quick cuts and roaming cameras he has come to rely on over the years. In addition, Scorsese draws the best out of his actors; 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 one of the film's high points). 

The violence, though 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 musical accompaniments for the on-screen action. Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, sung here 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 Academy Awards 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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Intriguingly, both Ordinary People and Dances With Wolves were directed by their male lead, whilst Rocky was written by its male lead (who would no doubt have loved to direct, but had more than enough hassle hanging on to the role he always intended to play himself).