Film #15 on the 100 Movies List: The Departed
The Departed is Martin Scorcese’s Oscar-winning Irish gangster film released in 2006, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, and loosely based around the real-life Boston Hill Gang led by Whitey Bulger. It’s a film I remember watching when it was first released when I was at university, and I was blown away. It centres around Irish gang boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and his relationships with police detective mole Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and undercover state trooper Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), as the latter two attempt to uncover each other’s identities.
Colin Sullivan was introduced to Costello as a young boy, groomed into joining the Massachusetts State Police and soon rises to the ranks of detective in the Special Investigation Unit, led by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin)and responsible for bringing down Costello and his gang. Conversely, Billy Costigan suffered a troubled youth with numerous members of his family involved in Costello’s gang. He trains as a state trooper and due to his family’s criminal ties, is turned into an undercover agent by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), his role to infiltrate Costello’s gang. Soon suspicions are raised and the net begins to close in on everyone involved, with dire consequences.
Personally, I think this is one of the best gangster films I’ve ever seen, if not the best. It’s everything you’d expect and more from a film in this genre, and I’m not sure anyone other than Scorcese could pull off a crime thriller that manages to feature such prominent Celtic music with such flair. It has a whip-smart, often funny script that features some cracking one-liners and quips, especially from Mark Wahlberg’s Dignam. Yes it is a little crude and some of the dialogue could be considered offensive by some, but to me, this just makes it more realistic as you can’t exactly expect gangsters and police to talk politely. Of course, the script is brought to life by a truly phenomenal cast, and arguably one of the best ensembles in a gangster film in terms of talent. Leonardo DiCaprio is no longer the fresh-faced youngster he was in the days of Titanic, although he puts in a terrific performance as Billy. This is also one of the few films I’ve seen of Matt Damon’s where he doesn’t play a nice guy, and he really fits this surprisingly well. But it’s Nicholson who steals the show as Costello and he definitely gets the biggest share of the witty script, bringing some light humour to an otherwise menacing criminal figure. You can’t keep your eyes off him whenever he’s on-screen, and I don’t believe anyone else could pull this off without seeming like an over the top caricature.
However, it isn’t perfect. The relationship between police psychiatrist Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) and both Sullivan and Costigan is a little unnecessary and not important to the main plot, but fortunately, the performances from all involved mean this isn’t a major issue. And again, the film is rather long but fortunately, the tense scenes and great acting, alongside a few well-placed action scenes, mean it never feels too drawn out.
This is a shining example of how to do a gangster film and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend. It’s an intelligent, performance-driven masterpiece and entirely deserving of it’s Best Picture Academy Award win.
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