Judge Ryan Keefer gladly steps out of the way to let you enjoy his thoughts on Martin Scorsese's latest crime epic.
"When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
What else can you say about the guy who has been nominated for an Oscar for Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture for Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ? Oh yeah, he hasn't won any of them yet. Hell, he wasn't even nominated for Taxi Driver! So while he embraces the glory of winning virtually every pre-Oscar award for Best Director for his work on The Departed, one has to wonder if the film merits the praise, or if this is the directorial equivalent of Denzel Washington winning Best Actor for Training Day.
Facts of the Case
William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) adapted the original film Infernal Affairs, from Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's screenplay. In this American version of the film, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Terms of Endearment) has been in control of the crime in the Boston area for the better part of several decades. Through an encounter in a local market, he runs into Colin Sullivan, who knows Frank's reputation and what he can do. Frank does a favor for Colin, and Colin takes Frank's offer to earn a little more money. He grows into an adult (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting), who trains with the Boston police but whose loyalty may still belong to the old neighborhood. In a separate class, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator) has family connections that are less than honorable, and his breaking away from those bonds is one of his driving forces to be a cop. However, he meets two officers, an older captain named Queenan (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now) and a younger, more abrasive one named Dignam (Mark Wahlberg, Three Kings) who provide him an opportunity. They let him know that his chance for legitimate business as a cop will be marginal at best, so why not use your family history and try to get close to Costello? When Costello becomes an even more high-profile target for another Boston police captain named Ellerby (Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross), Costello discovers that his crew might not completely be in order, so the chase begins for each of the young men to find the rat out.
I'll admit it, I wasn't exactly sure what to think when I first saw the trailer for this. I mean come on, why hadn't someone thought of the premise before? When the cop is actually a hood and the hood is really an undercover cop? It was an interesting cast surrounded by lots of Scorsese violence.
Well, just so you know, I grilled the crow I had to eat with a nice burgundy mushroom sauce. I really wound up enjoying The Departed far more than expected, perhaps more than its Asian predecessor. It's so simple, but yet the webs of deceit are intricate. The line I quoted in the beginning of the review (spoken by Nicholson) was in the trailer and the blurred lines between right and wrong are pervasive throughout the film. The very last scene in the film before the end credits, along with a line that French (Ray Winstone, The Proposition) utters quickly help you understand what it's like. For two hours and thirty minutes, you don't know which end is up.
In another act of contrition, I honestly didn't think that DiCaprio could pull off the role of a tough guy too well. He does get into a fight that is part of a larger plan and I couldn't help but laugh, and maybe the broken hand helps to diffuse that. But as a guy who doesn't know which way is up, and one who wants to leave the life he's had, Leo conveys this conflict exceptionally well. In a film where Damon and Wahlberg dust off their Bahstan accents, Leo is no slouch either. The other side of this coin that hasn't been talked about too much is Damon's performance. His conflict is the same to some degree, but his moral sense seems to seep in quietly, even as he's about to marry Madolyn (Vera Farmiga, Running Scared), who is a psychiatrist that is also seeing Billy as one of her patients.
The supporting performances are all excellent too. Farmiga does great in a role that seems to be a little more expanded from Infernal Affairs, as does Wahlberg, who earned a nomination for his work. Sheen's performance seems to be the same as was in Infernal Affairs, but he's a bit more paternal which was nice to see. Monahan does an excellent job of sticking true to the original story and interjecting the right parts that make The Departed a thoroughly thrilling experience.
The HD presentation is so good that, to paraphrase a quote I heard Ellerby say in the film, you'll want to take the way it looks in HD DVD and pass that presentation off as a testament to your cool television set. It might not be the most colorful on the market, but the black levels are rock solid and the overall depth of the image is outstanding. In choosing the Dolby TrueHD track over the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround track, I really didn't get or expect the oomph I was looking for. The songs sounded fantastic and thuds of pipes against flesh sound clear, but it's not as enveloping as I would have liked. The extras on this combo HD/SD disc are all housed and can only be viewed on HD DVD. Starting off, there are nine deleted scenes, each with introduction by Scorsese and run about twenty minutes in total length. "Stranger Than Fiction" focuses on Whitey Bulger, the real-life crime boss/FBI informant in Boston and the inspiration for the film's setting in Boston. The Boston-bred actors share their thoughts on the neighborhood, and various Boston area writers and some old members of the Bulger crime organization (some of which served as technical advisors on the film) are interviewed and share their thoughts on the man and the "Southies" that are discussed. It's a very interesting look at the figure and his activities, along with the stories about Bulger's FBI connections. "Crossing Criminal Cultures" is more focused on the film and in a larger perspective, Scorsese's affinity for shooting films that feature the criminal underbelly. Scorsese talks about his days in the old neighborhood and includes footage of his other Warner crime dramas. On the critical side, Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers also shares some historical perspective on Scorsese's career as well, and it's a nice, albeit short look at the director. The trailer is the last supplement to speak of.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well disc-wise, there's no commentary, which is a minor bummer. But in a larger omission, the HD and Blu-Ray versions don't include the excellent documentary "Scorsese on Scorsese." So if you want it, you're forced to either double dip the SD version or wait for Turner Classic Movies to air it sometime.
From a movie standpoint, I run the risk of having my head (or some other vital organ) handed to me on this, but Nicholson's performance was a little bit excessive. The story has it that Jack was initially hesitant to take the role that Eric Tsang played as Hon Sam in Infernal Affairs, but some changes were made and he took the role of Costello. While some of these additions were fun, I'd go so far as to say that Jack is being basically more of a self-satire than a bloodthirsty crime boss. But that's probably why he's got the three Oscars and I don't. On the nitpicking side of things, having not seen Infernal Affairs in a while, I believe there was a relationship in it that might have been a little more platonic than the same relationship in The Departed, and I think that was a little more effective there than here.
Well, is The Departed better than Infernal Affairs? Yes, without hesitation. I think when you get down to it, Damon's performance was a little more effective than Andy Lau's in Infernal Affairs 3, and The Departed focused more on the psychology of the main characters, with traces of the usual Scorsese trademark violent scenes (the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and "Let it Loose" are pretty apropos song choices). It might not be The Godfather, but the actors really enjoy the material and Scorsese gives them free will to turn in great performances, which they do. Marty may finally get the Oscar he so richly deserves, but The Departed is another part in a great director's filmography that as a standalone film is Oscar worthy. It's definitely worth seeing and adding to your library.
Never mind the brown envelope the court has received, the cast and crew are acquitted and the court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Additional scenes with introductions by Martin Scorsese
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