The Departed (18)

Directed by Martin Scorcese, Written by William Monahan, Siu Fai Mak, Felix Chong
On general release from 6th October 2006

Reviewed by Mark Langshaw

Like a shotgun blast to the head, Scorsese comes roaring back to the crime genre he helped to define with classics like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Mean Streets. With The Departed, the legendary directory has transferred the plot from the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs to his native Boston, boiling it down to its deprived essence.

The plot centers around two trainees at the Massachusetts State Police Academy, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon). For Costigan, it’s an escape from the Bostonian criminal underworld he was born into. For Sullivan, it’s an opportunity to play mole for notorious Irish mob kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who trained him since boyhood. The drama kicks in when Costigan is told by his superiors (Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen, both perfectly cast) that he will never wear a state uniform. He is, however, asked to go undercover and infiltrate Costello’s nest of vipers. Sullivan joins the Special Investigations Unit, led by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) and, like Costigan, is assigned to rat out his co-workers. It is not long before both men begin to crumble under the pressure of concealing their true identities.

As in a number of Scorsese’s other pictures, issues of sin, societal decay, identity and loyalty resonate throughout, but much of the intrinsic violence is saved for the final act, when the character’s lives collide like oncoming trains.

Unsurprisingly, Jack Nicholson’s devilishly decadent performance is one of the highlights, but Scorsese also squeezes the best out of DiCaprio and Damon. The same can also be said of the ever-reliable Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone and Martin Sheen. It is however, the man with arguably lesser credentials who steals the show at the end – Mark Wahlberg.

The driving force behind these visceral portrayals is William Monahan’s razor-sharp script. This – combined with an atmospheric Howard Shore score and some inspired soundtrack choices – is a winning formula.

So many modern remakes are no more than nails in the coffin of original film-making but Scorsese’s take on the eastern crime classic is an innovative and evocative vision of a society crumbling from its foundations. Whether The Departed will be given ‘iconic’ status like some of his other pictures remains to be seen, but this is certainly amongst Scorsese’s best work.

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