In my review of The Hurt Locker, I mentioned that my next review would be of Ratatouille because it was the next film on my list. Apparently, I can’t read lists. The next film on my list was The Departed.
Fortunately, The Departed is an absolutely tremendous film. Scorsese took the Hong Kong Infernal Affairs film trilogy, the true story of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, and his own personal obsessions with fatherhood and masculinity and put them through the blender. What came out is almost too rich to be believed, but it proves to be one of the best crime epics of the 21st century.
Set in Boston, The Departed tracks the careers of two Irish cops. One, a corrupt double agent, Sullivan, (Matt Damon) placed in the Massachusetts State Police by the gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and the other an undercover cop, Costigan, (Leonardo DiCaprio) placed in Costello’s organization by his superiors (Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg). As Costello and the Staties slowly become aware that each has been compromised by the other, the two moles are pitted in a deadly race to discover each other’s identity.
Despite my misgivings about The Wolf of Wall Street, I’m generally a fan of Scorsese’s work. That said, once every decade or so, Scorsese turns in a picture that is a cut above the rest of his generally high quality output. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed. What links these films is that Scorsese strips his subjects of their glamour and lays bare their scars, emotions, and insecurities producing high quality character drama to complement a barn burning plot, exciting score, memorable dialogue and fantastic performances.
The Departed is on a whole other level. Unlike the other features on his list, The Departed has a larger cast of prominent characters. The screenplay, by William Monahan, deftly manages this expansive roster, providing every character with believable motivations and histories. The Departed feels richer and more layered than Scorsese’s other crime epics. The larger cast permits Scorsese and Monahan to build fascinating connections between scenes. Characters lie to save their lives, to keep things on an even keel, to preserve their fragile egos, to justify their choices, but frankly, they lie because when their truths are laid bare none of the other characters can live with them.
Scorsese was at the top of his game here. He used music, mood, lighting, the city of Boston, and even the letter X to create beauty, romance, and tension. He capitalized on a seemingly never ending gold mine of acting talent, and made improvements on the source material. The original Infernal Affairs featured two prominent female roles, but Scorsese trimmed them down into one, Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga). As a result, Scorsese’s characters are dangerously close to each other nearly all the time. It also gives Farmiga a more interesting and conflicted character to play, and she makes the most of it.
As a viewer, I love a movie that rewards a careful viewing. The Departed does just that. The whole movie turns on small details, the location of an envelope or the exact number of an address. In scenes where someone is about to die, the set design features at least one appearance of the letter X. These details are used to subtly build suspense, and clue in impassioned viewers that the stakes are rising.
Gangsters are great on the silver screen, and The Departed is one of the movies that proves it. I could write a book about how much I loved The Departed, but instead, I’ll simply state that it is without doubt one of the best films of the 2000s.
The Departed finds itself on this list because four reviewers placed it on their list of the best films of the decade. An honor it shares with the next film I’m going to review which is really Ratatouille.
From Out of the Void