Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin. (2006, R, 149 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 6, 2006
Watching this new film by Scorsese is tantamount to falling in love again with the brash, cinematic bad boy from New York City, the little "Italianamerican" who elevated the septic allure of the criminal life to something sui generis in Mean Streets and GoodFellas, the guy who made the pale white underbelly of the city talk to you in an urban patois that is part wiseguy, part Brooklynese, and never, ever anything less than 100% pure immigrant-American dreamspeak. He was (and with The Departed, confirms he still is) the most red, white, and blue filmmaker since another Italian-American, Frank Capra, washed up on Ellis Island. Which makes it all the more interesting that The Departed is a remake of the 2002 Chinese film Infernal Affairs. Working from William Monahan's deeply layered, immensely satisfying script, Scorsese's film expands on the (already excellent) original, moving the action from the director's home base to the not-dissimilar mean streets of Boston, where, to this day, the Irish mobs duke it out with the Johnny O'Law in a hellish jig. Here it involves the sort of cross/double-cross mind games that ultimately leads to a morally confounding no-man's-land. DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a not-cop placed deep undercover in the Mob by his bosses (Sheen, Wahlberg) at the Massachusetts State Troopers in an effort to nail longtime kingpin Frank Costello (Nicholson). Costello, in turn, has his own, hand-groomed mole in the "Staties" in the form of Colin Sullivan (Damon). As The Departed clips along, punctuated by gunfire, bodies, and lies, these two become aware of each other's machinations within their opposing camps, and, under extreme duress, they warily circle each other like blind and bloodied sharks. This is a dream cast for both Scorsese and the viewer, and everyone is working at the peak of their craft. Nicholson's flawless performance as the increasingly unhinged crime boss is a marvel of manic, paranoid ruination, and the film's running metaphor of rats – literal, figurative, and otherwise – is only too accurate. It's this film's interwoven storylines, a cat's cradle of doubt and duplicity, that mesmerize, and give DiCaprio and Damon the best roles they've ever had. Damon's cunning womanizer, who eventually settles down (sort of) with a cop shrink (Farmiga, in the film's only underwritten role), is riveting in his epithet-littered and self-righteous falsehood. And DiCaprio, working with the director for a third time, obliterates any remaining trace of Titanic's teen-pop appeal from his résumé. As Billy, he's like a depth charge under immense pressure, descending deeper and deeper into the criminal abyss while struggling to hold on to his own identity. When he finally collides with his doppelganger, the concussion reverberates across the entire film. Scorsese doesn't have much to say about the Irish mob, or how their immigrant experience echos that of their Italian counterparts in New York, but this isn't Gangs of New York, or even gangs of South Boston: It's Them vs. Us, with no I to speak of.