The Departed

In a flood of remakes and sequels, its almost incredulous something as fresh and exciting as Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” can surface. Scorsese isn’t iridescent for remakes or sequels, but “The Departed,” based on the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs,” is a crime drama, and no one interprets the ins and outs of the mob drama better than the director of “Casino” and Goodfellas.”

Crediting a vivid, dark and entangled screenplay by William Monahan, “The Departed” isn’t necessarily a remake but a revision, the same story told from a different perspective. With his usual suspects behind the camera (Michael Ballhaus provides the balletic photography, Thelma Schoonmaker the precision editing), Scorsese returns to familiar territory, a crime drama anchored by hard hitting performances, unexpected violence, and a strong sense of family.

Even at its sprawling two-and-a-half hours, “The Departed” is efficient, grand storytelling told on an operatic scale, yet so personal and intense you feel as claustrophobic as the protagonists, two young Boston men who joined the police department for different reasons.

It takes a while for “The Departed” to find its footing, but once it hits the ground, it never stops running. After a brief prologue introducing the Dante in charge of this Inferno, “The Departed” catapults us to the present, where all hell is about to break loose for undercover rookie cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who accepts the dangerous assignment of infiltrating the tight Irish mob family of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Holding the match is Frank’s trusted right hand man Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), working both sides of the law.

When he’s not enforcing for Costello, Sullivan helps head up the police task force in charge of apprehending him. Nice work if you can get, a plum assignment arranged by Costello. In order to gain entry into Costello’s family, Costigan undergoes a fast-paced training program which reduces him back into a street punk. If you thought getting listed on Paris Hilton’s I-Pod was a tough nut to crack, try enduring Costigan’s brutal initiation.

As part of his undercover therapy, Costigan is required to see police psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), who is also seeing and doing Sullivan. Forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, everyone in this film is bound by blood, literally and figuratively. Undercover and alone, Costigan maintains his cover even as he misses his own life. His only sense of family comes from Costello and his crew, and his only release comes from Madolyn, who is also playing both sides of the law.

Complications are a way of life in “The Departed,” with every frame moving us closer and closer to an explosive finale leaving us breathless and shocked. Even if you have seen the original film, Scorsese and Monahan’s adaptation keeps the film, and thus the audience, on their toes. Mobsters, informants, crooked cops, we know this isn’t going to end pretty. It’s a testament to the high profile cast we care so much about these people.

DiCaprio, in one of his best roles to date, shows great maturity as a young man forced to feed his adult desires. It’s a tough role, filled with nuance and intensity, and not once do we ever feel betrayed by the actor’s choices. After his brutal induction, it’s easy to see why Costello would admit this outsider into his world. DiCaprio strips down his character to expose every nerve, a raw, frank portrait of a man always looking over his shoulder.

The same can be said for Sullivan, who took the opposite path yet ends up walking the same beat as Costigan. One is a rat working from the outside, the other is a rat working from within. It’s only a matter of time before these two cross paths, and that’s what makes the film so riveting. Everyone, somewhere, somehow, is crossing and double-crossing someone else. Watching these actors create this house of cards, waiting for the one moment where it all comes tumbling down, is nerve racking. With every toss of a new card we hold our breath, wondering when, where, and how it will all crumble.

As the loyal heir to the throne, Damon strikes just the right chord of malice and menace. He looks like a choir boy, until you cross him, and then Damon shocks us with a current of hidden rage. Damon plays a similar character in the “Bourne” films, but here he’s downright scary. There’s no soul in his eyes, just a comforting glaze hiding the stare of a killer. Nicholson is larger than life as Costello, but not so large he becomes a caricature. He’s truly frightening.

Scorsese lines the frame with excellent supporting characters, including Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as the only two cops who know Costigan’s true identity, and Farmiga as a woman devoted to her work but blind sided by romance.

Monahan’s screenplay effectively transplants the story from Hong Kong to the mean streets of Boston, and it’s here where Scorsese feels at home. He knows these streets, these people, and it shows in the performances and in the film’s overall look. Scorsese’s return to crime drama after “The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York” is not only welcome, but gives us what amounts to the best film of the year to date. Tough and uncompromising, “The Departed” is the reason we go to the movies.

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The Departed

Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R. 152 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $10.00

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