So this is why we go to the movies--every single, solitary reason why, to be exact. Leave it to the great Martin Scorsese to remind us, in one of the year's very best and most exciting films.
It isn't until later on in The Departed that you realize how important and well-crafted its beginning is: Two Bostonians, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), nearly cross paths when they're interviewed in succession by Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) and Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen). Costigan is chosen to infiltrate the mob in order to get to Boston's most feared boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and he'll have to put in some time in the slammer and on the streets before gaining a shred of cred; meanwhile, Sullivan, clean-cut and articulate, is pulling the ultimate job for Costello by infiltrating the state police department and alerting the mob boss of their every move. As the two moles become more involved in their undercover operations, the groups they're infiltrating begin to smell something fishy. And so commences the chess match between Costigan and Sullivan to reveal each other before their respective pseudo-colleagues do.
For any actor who truly enjoys the art of his job, more so than the sexy periphery of it all, something as collaborative as The Departed must seem like the proverbial "candy store." Maybe that explains why DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson and Wahlberg all signed up instead of carrying their own separate blockbusters for likely a much bigger payday. DiCaprio and Damon do what they do in every movie: give their best performances to date. Each plays completely against type, flaunting the fact that genuine movie superstardom isn't born out of good looks alone. For Nicholson, his career nearing the half-century mark, it's no longer easy to qualify and rank his performances, but Costello is one of his high points in a career pretty much devoid of anything but. As likely the lone Oscar contender (amongst the cast), Nicholson is equal parts monstrous and wry--or, better yet, equal parts Jack Torrance and The Joker. Wahlberg steals the funniest lines, especially with his inborn Boston accent, but Sheen often catches them before they're allowed too much laughter. It doesn't end there, though: Alec Baldwin (as a fellow officer), soon-to-be breakout star Vera Farmiga (as a police shrink who ends up playing a central role), Ray Winstone (as Costello's right-hand man) and Anthony Anderson (as a young cop familiar with both Costigan and Sullivan) all shine. Unprecedented chemistry amongst an unprecedented cast is as much a theme here as revenge!
It is a privilege to watch a legend who is still so relevant: Martin Scorsese. The iconic director is responsible for some of film's all-time masterpieces (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas), but perhaps never has he seemed so vigorous. The Departed is a return to form for him in its vulgarity and casual-as-waking-up violence--the man makes exploding brain bits look like masterful spin art, but somehow never gratuitous; however, the film is not a return to straight-ahead mob flicks, which would be a copout. His mere aura commands actors' best-ever performances, and does he ever get them here. But it's Scorsese's party, thanks to his trademark grit and urban storytelling, for no one makes the bad look so damn good! His prowess is indubitable, but it's hard to imagine him doing it without a superb script rewrite of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs from Boston's own William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven). His story is not flawless all the time--for one thing, Farmiga's character is the story's thinly veiled crutch--and it could be argued that the gunshots are exploitatively deafening, but this is no time to nitpick. It's time to sit back, feel tense, and enjoy the show!
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.