Never to be "departed" from the pantheon of premiere American directors.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"The heaven sets spies upon us, will not have
Our contract celebrated." Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
It's not Taxi Driver or even Goodfellas, but Martin Scorsese's Departed is one of the year's best films and one of his best, after his 2 or 3 indisputable classics such as Raging Bull. The director has assembled a first-rate cast, who, right down to Jack Nicholson as mobster kingpin Frank Costello, are having a great time nudging each other's performances toward excellence through collaboration.
Remade from a 2002 Hong Kong smash called Infernal Affairs, The Departed tells of moles within the Boston State Police Department and the South Boston Irish-American mob. When the director opens the film with Costello's brief narration and the Stones' Gimme Shelter for background music, we're in for a whole lot of no shelter for anyone and uncommon acting for everyone.
The set up is just complex enough to act as a metaphor for the nasty workings of the United Nations, Iraqi Assembly, and US Congress. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) willingly serves as a mole in the South Boston Irish-American mob for the State Police, while Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) does the same in the State Police for the mob.
Amongst the intertwining machinations of cell phones and lies is a triangle with those two operatives and a psychologist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), as well played by the three as could be hoped for in such a trumped-up situation that provides little sexual payoff for audience voyeurs and many scratched heads for those who enjoy well-structured plots. This triangle is the only disappointment in a film layered expertly to show how intertwined crime and punishment in a world last laid bare by Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Mystic River (2003).
Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and production designer Kristie Zea are winning collaborators with the director for a look that is authentic (I worked in South Boston for 3 year), crisp, and dark. But in the end the film belongs to the actors, chief among them DiCaprio as a young Scorsese acolyte showing the master's handiwork after 3 films with him. And Matt Damon has never been better in his hometown, as has fellow South Bostonian Mark Wahlberg in his role as a detective with a barbed tongue and equally sharp intuition.
Welcome back, Martin S. The Departed may not win you an Oscar, but it does guarantee you never will be "departed" from the pantheon of premiere American directors.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com