Great Movies: The Departed

By Christian DiMartino

I find it baffling that Martin Scorsese didn’t win an Oscar until The Departed. I mean sure, it was very well earned. But he should have picked up gold for Taxi DriverRaging Bull, and Goodfellas, to say the least.

Still, his Oscar for The Departed was very well deserved, not even because the decades of snubbing, but also just because The Departed is a masterclass of great cinema. It’s brutally funny, and it’s just plain brutal. It’s a pure white-knuckler with virtuoso performances all around. It’s a crime thriller that, after you see it, you won’t soon forget.

The film basically focuses on two “moles” involved in the Boston police force. On one side of the spectrum, we have William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aspiring cop who isn’t given a chance due to his family’s criminal past. On the other, there’s Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a cop who seems to have it together… except for the fact that he is pretty much in cahoots with a notorious mobster named Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who he has known since he was a kid.

Since he isn’t technically a cop, Costigan is asked by the chiefs (Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg) to infiltrate Costello’s group, and become one of them. So, that is just what he does. But then again, there’s Sullivan, who is also going against the police, while also helping them.

The film is a remake of a Japanese film called Infernal Affairs. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing that one, but Scorsese’s The Departed enough pleasures all its own. Here, Scorsese builds the suspense through tension. The fear of Costello discovering Costigan’s real identity holds us in the story’s grip the entire time, and it’s fascinating to see how far all of it goes.

William Monahan’s crackling screenplay is crisply written, with some of the most unforgettable insults in recent memory. There’s darkly funny moments aplenty, and the great cast chews on this material with gusto. I realize that 2006 was a difficult year to put a finger on, but the whole cast is Oscar worthy.

DiCaprio was nominated not for this film, but for Blood Diamond. Either way, he kills it here. Damon adds just the right amount of douchey smarm for his performance to work. However, the show is stolen by Nicholson, who knocks this role out of the park, and Wahlberg, who seems to be having the biggest blast here. Wahlberg is the only one of the great cast to get a nomination, and it’s understandable why. But I won’t forget Vera Farmiga, in a small but effective role as Sullivan’s therapist girlfriend, who also has the hots for Costigan.

The Departed is pure genius. The way that the elements of the story unfold is both shocking and expertly crafted. It’s no wonder: Scorsese is a master. I don’t know if I can quite call The Departed his finest work. For me, that is probably Raging Bull. But it makes the race to 2nd place more interesting. It was the best film of 2006, and one of the best films of the last decade.

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