Newest Review: ... a mole. Meanwhile, Billy Costigan's (Leonardo DiCaprio) superiors in the Police force have another future planned out for him, being a y... more
Scorsese returns to the mean streets, but Gimme Shelter from Jack...
The Departed (DVD)
Member Name: LeeRobertAdams
The Departed (DVD)
Advantages: Scorsese close to his best; some stellar performances from an A-List cast.
Disadvantages: Jack Nicholson's OTT performance unsettles the whole thing.
"The Departed" opens as perhaps all Martin Scorsese movies will open, when you pass away and get to watch them the way you want them on that big silver screen in the sky. The Rolling Stones are on the soundtrack, Scorsese is back on the mean streets with his steadicam, waltzing around his characters in soda shops and chop shops, while the infernal Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) dispenses his hard-won philosophy to the audience.
Nicholson isn't the first name that springs to mind when you think of Scorsese collaborators, but the style and language of these opening frames are so seductive and reassuring that you instantly recognise it as Scorsese's territory. As much as we all admire "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", and the eccentric ambition of "Gangs of New York" and the glossy "Aviator", I think when it comes down to it, when we sit down in a darkened room to watch a new Scorsese movie, we all want the same thing. We want to be transformed and transported for a few hours; we want to feel special again, the way we all felt when we first watched "Goodfellas".
There's been a notable backlash against "Goodfellas" recently, but for a sheer headrush of eclectic soundtrack, awesome performances, audacious editing and persuasive directing, it takes a lot of beating as cinema as sensation, as an experience.
And "The Departed" starts off with something similar - a young lad seduced by the larger-than-life characters of his neighborhood's underworld, and the drama that will unfold from his involvement and relationship with these criminals.
Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) meets Costello at an early age - clearly daunted by being in the vicinity of this dangerous man as he collects his protection money from a soda shop owner, he still pays a visit on the big man's suggestions, and is soon taken into the family - this we assume, as next thing, we see Sullivan as a fully grown Matt Damon, a police officer working towards promotion in the Special Investigations Unit.
At this point, we only suspect Sullivan is still on Costello's pay roll, and is actually working for the crime boss as a mole.
Meanwhile, Billy Costigan's (Leonardo DiCaprio) superiors in the Police force have another future planned out for him, being a young man from a poor background, whose family has a history of crime. Because of his family's criminal ties, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) considers him a perfect undercover police officer - a few months in jail to make it look good, and nobody's going to ask any questions.
The rest of the film follows the two men - unknown to each other - as they gradually infiltrate their respective organisations, both intimately familiar with Costello, one trying to protect him, the other trying to gather enough evidence to get him sent down for a long, long time.
Fans of the original Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs" won't need telling, as the storyline is fairly faithful to the original. Some eyebrows were raised about Scorsese's decision to remake such a highly acclaimed classic, but those people seemed to forget the director has done remakes previously - his "Cape Fear" went above and beyond the well respected original potboiler, adding many extra layers of sexuality, infidelity and ambiguity to the sweaty plotline.
Scorsese remains faithful to the original while also building in his own nuances - influence of religion being one of them - and fleshing out his characters in rough, tough Boston environment. His grip on the material is as tight as perhaps it's ever been; there's a lot of information being presented in this movie, and most of it Scorsese is able to convey and keep simple just by a few choice cuts which show us all we need to know.
Double cross stories can be confusing at the best of times, and it's testament to Scorsese's mastery of the medium that you're never confused who's doing what, when or where, and what their motivation is.
Scorsese is also assisted by a fantastic cast - Nicholson, Damon, DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winston - all making the most (in one case, too much) of their allotted time on screen.
Like Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson, Scorsese knows how to change with the times, and build his team with the best of what's available. He also knows how to build a team around his star player. For years, Scorsese's "Captain" was Robert De Niro, who was central to everything he did - "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "King of Comedy", "Cape Fear", "Goodfellas" (to name a few). There were many other great actors in those movies, but it was De Niro at the center holding it all together.
Whether that collaboration tailed off in the Nineties as De Niro seemed to become more of a parody of his former self, I don't know, but Scorsese has found a new "Captain" in Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio, building on his early promise of roles in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and "Romeo and Juliet" has survived the early heartthrob image and matured into one of the best actors around today. DiCaprio, I think, is one of the most natural actors about at the moment - at first, you think, "Oh look! It's Leonardo", but then his acting and onscreen presence is so effortless that you forget his acting; once that happens, he allows you to just get drawn into the character.
Scorsese has collaborated with DiCaprio on a number of occasions now - "Gangs of New York", "The Aviator", "Shutter Island", and his Billy Costigan in "The Departed" is another fine performance, and the one that anchors the film. With his lanky frame and dark rimmed eyes, you can feel the pressure Costigan is under as he tries to do his job and stay alive at the same time.
Matt Damon as Sullivan is also very good - but then Matt Damon usually is. Damon, once again, uses his all-American good looks to his advantage, and, like he did in "The Talented Mr Ripley", uses them as a disguise for a darker, amoral soul. There's something very uncomfortable and queasy to watch Damon in these roles where he uses his brilliant smile and easy-going charm to manipulate those around him.
Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winston make the most of relatively small roles, but standout in this category is Mark Wahlberg's Staff Sergeant Dingham, an uptight and offensive senior policeman with a rather unfortunate way of dealing with people. I've always had trouble accepting Wahlberg as an actor, with his plain, unremarkable face and strangely effeminate, lispy voice.
Here he plays nicely against type as the aggressive, foul mouthed Dingham, who grabs up most of the film's laughs and also turns out to the the story's redemptive force.
Then there's Jack Nicholson. He seemed an odd choice for the role of a gangster at first, because despite the number of villains he's played in the past, there always seems to be something essentially generous and benevolent about Nicholson's performances. And like many of the male actors that came to prominence during the 70's, like Pacino, Hoffman, De Niro and Voight, their careers can be roughly cut into two sections - the Seventies, and Everything Else.
Neither section's roles - the individualist rebels of the Seventies, or the larger-than-life characters where he stopped being referred to as "Jack Nicholson" or "Nicholson", and started to be referred to as simply "Jack".
He starts off well in the role of Frank Costello, his best moments lurking in the shadows, making it easy to understand how this character is frightening and fascinating, repellent and attractive, at the same time to the people around him.
Then about halfway through the movie, he suddenly turns into "The Joker". Here's Jack playing with a severed hand, and here he is pulling silly faces and funny accents, and look! Jack's waving a rubber cock around! The performance goes from a controlled portrayal of a dangerous, larger-than-life character, to simply a larger-than-life, dangerously uncontrolled performance.
Dangerous, because in such a gripping, assured effort from Scorsese, surrounded by excellent performances, the big exploding charisma in the center of it that is "Jack!" unbalances the whole thing, and makes it distractingly comic when the tension should be really biting.
So - imagine. Scorsese's got his new team Captain DiCaprio playing his socks off in the middle of the director's long awaited return to (some kind of) mean streets. Imagine if he'd got his old team captain De Niro to play the Costello role? That could have been something....
(Originally posted on Ciao! as Midwinter)
Summary: An almost perfect return to mob territory for Scorsese.