Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Movie List: The Departed (2006)

Film: The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Oscar nominations: 5 (Best Picture*; Best Director, Martin Scorsese*; Best Supporting Actor, Mark Wahlberg; Best Editing, Thelma Schoonmaker*; Best Adapted Screenplay, Screenplay by William Monahan*)
*Denotes win
Who would have guessed that Scorsese's return to the gritty, violent dramas he's most famous for would see him moving up I-95 from his beloved New York into the streets of Boston? The Departed is a terrific crime thriller, one in which Scorsese brings his dirty cops and ruthless gangsters to life in a downward spiral of urban decay. The story follows two men: Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese's new muse after De Niro), a "Southie" police academy student who goes undercover to gather evidence to build a case against notorious gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). However, recent police academy superstar Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) happens to be a mole for Costello within the police department, resulting in a tense cat-and-mouse game between the police and the gangsters in which no one's allegiances are certain.
Based on the Hong Kong thriller Mou gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs), the film is an exciting, twisty journey into darkness. Scorsese's style has always been very polished, but there's enough grit here to bring out the shock value of the violence, and blood does flow quite freely here. Monahan's script crackles with intensity and veracity (he's a Boston native), and he keeps the various plot twists from becoming too overbearing. However, there are dry parts to the film, which somewhat dull the action, but when the film comes alive its magnificently so. And Scorsese knows this material well, and the craftsmanship on display is the work of a master.
Wahlberg and Damon
The ensemble, though, is what really makes it fantastic (Scorsese really does know how to bring out great performances from his actors). DiCaprio broods excellently, and the deeper he gets the more desperate he becomes. Its also really interesting to see Damon play a "villain" for once, though of course its much more complicated than that. Wahlberg is excellent in his few scenes, spitting out profane put-downs every few seconds. Its a fine performance, but not an Oscar-worthy one. Nicholson hams it up as Frank, but it never falls into caricature; he ensures us that Frank is a cold-hearted, complicated character. And Vera Farmiga gives a typically-great performance as the therapist that Colin falls for.
Overall, I highly recommend it. Its a great crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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