The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

10Dec11

Leonardo DiCaprio (William Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn). Screenplay by William Monahan. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rating: 18. Running time: 151 minutes.

The Departed is a film with mad energy. In every put-down and punch-up there’s a speed and richness to the story and style that makes the film race like an F1 car on crack-cocaine. Think GoodFellas with a lot less glamour and way more realism, an outrageous Jack Nicholson performance tossed in for good measure and a denser plot than Scorsese had worked with in years.

It’s easily a classic mob movie, but whereas in past years Scorsese’s focus had always been the luxuries of the lifestyle, the major theme that comes out of this phenomenal film is the problem of identity. With two moles on opposite sides – DiCaprio playing the undercover cop Bill Costigan pretending to be the full-time badass South Bostoner he easily could have become, Damon the faux-Special Detective Colin Sullivan whose main job is in fact playing informant to Mafia boss Frank Costello – the good guy lives down on the streets surrounded by violence, risking his life and raking in money, all the time pretending to be drunk on the magic of this macho world that in reality only we are in fact infatuated with. Meanwhile the man who an X-Ray would expose as having a genuinely dirtied soul has all the appearances of being comfortably banal and bourgeois, residing in a high-fly apartment and settling down with an equally well-paid Miss Freud.

Costigan is, of course, deeply fragile. His existence would be enough to drive anyone nuts, and DiCaprio truly comes of age in an explosively angry performance, full of the gusto and despair that the role demands. It’s only rivalled in entertainment value by Wahlberg’s, who gets a barrel of great lines from a script that is the stoned engine of this car; and Nicholson, who is, well, just Nicholson. Could anyone else get away with an impression of a rat, or so casually but convincingly holding a dead man’s hand at the breakfast table to the sound of Lennon’s screeching vocals in Well Well Well? And how about whipping out a black dildo aged 69 in an old porno cinema, playing a trick on Sullivan to make him think he was jerking off? It’s an insane but utterly engrossing performance, and it provides so many stand-alone moments of the kind you’d happily watch isolated on replay that despite its intricate and crucial story, The Departed also somehow works as a montage of scenes that just work for their own sake and nothing else, as moments of cinematic gold.

How much time must go into this? After more than thirty years of movie making, does the ability to just know what song will work best and what scene to show next just play out naturally? The editing here is hyperactive, unforgettably loud, but not once does it lose or bore us. The film just flows from office spat to drug deal and blood splat to evening meal, and we get caught up by the order being imposed on what’s in fact a world as chaotic as New Orleans post-Katrina. Just jump on board and prepare for the head-hurling emergency stop. The ride will be a manic but enthralling one, and you’ll leave wishing there was a Departed out every year.

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