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  Publicity Stills of "The Departed"
(Courtesy from Warner Bros)

Genre: Crime/Thriller
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin
RunTime: 2 hrs 29 mins
Released By: Warner Bros
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)

Opening Day: 12 October 2006


Synopsis :

The Departed is set in South Boston, where the state police force is waging war on organized crime. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Costello (Jack Nicholson). While Billy is quickly gaining Costello’s confidence, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the police department as an informer for the syndicate, is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit. Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operations he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the gangsters and the police that there’s a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin are suddenly in danger of being caught and exposed to the enemy – and each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself.

Movie Review:

As darkly comedic and resonant as “Goodfellas” (if they had mobiles and wireless Internet) and as virile and gritty as “Mean Streets”, Scorcese scores a winner by all regards in “The Departed”. And yet the closest description for a story of this magnitude that spans across the generations and multiple complex characters would be “L.A. Confidential”. Rarely does a film work on every level that it aspires to and there’s really not much to say that contradicts it. It’s a potboiler crime fiction of epic proportions with every strand of intersecting plot brimming with rising conflict.

The coarse dialogue, contextual environments and masculine anti-heroes are straight out of Scorcese’s playbook, transposed from mobs to cops. The frissons of being mucked in such a ravenous war zone of conflicting ideals is slowly transformed into a deeper sense of apprehension when it becomes an operatic thriller that closes in on the deception and betrayal between the men caught on the frontlines.

Let me just begin by assuaging fears of a slavish copy of the original as Scorcese, who is arguable the master of the modern gangster genre (including the inspiration for Hong Kong’s wave of gangster films) makes this revision very much his own and all but seals his accolades come award season. The premise and plot structure remain true, but key sequences have been given a new treatment and there are different assertions and idiosyncrasies in the characters which are created by their respective actors.

It’s a welcome difference in the locale from Hong Kong to Boston. It allows for more elaborate setpieces with clever use of racial prejudices and homophobia in the language that adds another dimension to the politics involved. And of course a much more vibrant Boston landscape in the film’s brooding atmosphere that plays a bigger part in the film’s scope with its flagrant bending of time and space. And as usual, one actor stands out playing his role the way audiences have always recognised him. He brings a crucial, unrestrained element to his larger-than-life character that one might suspect is unseen in the script.

Nicholson’s Costello is an expanded takeoff from Eric Tsang’s supremely underdeveloped but scene-stealing role as the mob boss Sam in “Infernal Affairs”, just one of Scorcese’s prerogatives that was undertaken with the glut of talented performers he was presented with. Nicholson forces himself into the foreground with yet another of his quintessential performances that borders somewhere between paranoia, rage and aloofness. But Scorcese burdens the film’s strongest scenes by placing Nicholson in the centre stage, letting him pull the emotional strings with nervy self-reliance by sheer presence alone. Of course, this can be a masterstroke at times, but an overdose of Jack can betray a scene’s natural gravitas.

And it’s made clear very early on that this is not a man to be trifled with, no matter how captivating Frank Costello is. We must not like him, even if we must resist the temptation to. In an opening monologue that draws us in closer than a thousand scenes ever could, Costello reveals himself as a growling psychopath that’s only certain of one thing – himself. Effort is taken to magnify the man. Almost as if recounting the exploits of Kaiser Soze with its fair of tight crosscutting, immersive edits that squeeze out backstory and narration of a merciless killer.

The cat-and-mouse dynamics between Damon and DiCaprio’s characters are the anchor of the latter half of the film. It reaches breaking point when the walls close down and they have to handle the responsibility of decisions alone and the unrelenting paranoia under deadly scrutiny. A common respect is grounded between the 2 moles, and Scorcese wisely cuts between the snippets of their lives during the good times and the bad times to show the impact of sacrifice within those men. There’s also not so much of the ellipsis that the original had in its narrative, which really fills in big gaps and rounds off each of the players involved. The high doses of tension and great pacing carries the momentum of each revelation further through the story, as the stakes get higher and higher. The urgency and fearlessness of the camera swerving in and out of confrontations and intimate close-ups of low-key moments create moments of significance out of nothing.

Scorcese works indelibly well with an observant DiCaprio, who once again brings pathos to a character that had stylistic sheen overpower its emotional whiplashes in the original. As much in Nicholson’s shadow as Damon is within his, there’s a hierarchy of powerful performers present that in any other film would have been overkill. But in new scribe William Monahan’s script, each character is fleshed out and most importantly, each of them has a clear voice. There are hints about the battles of moral complexities being fought by the characters. Their actions carry weight further into the film. There’s resistance to the actions that need to be done and guilt over those that have been done. They are established clear roles early on and it’s compelling to see how these roles are switched around until the final crescendo of madness ceases.

Movie Rating:

(Unapologetically indulgent, it’s a masterful effort by Scorcese after 11 years of absence in his strongest genre)

Review by Justin Deimen

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