Martin Scorsese’s new crime drama “The Departed” cements the Irish mob’s takeover of the crime entertainment monopoly from the Italian mafia. With Jack Nicholson at his best since 1992 and Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio giving the performances of their careers, it’s hard to deny the sheer power exuded on screen by these three fine actors.
Frank Costello (Nicholson) is Boston’s top crime boss. The Special Investigations Unit of the Massachusetts State Police in Boston has been assigned to take him down. Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is sent deep undercover to gather all the information he can on Costello and his organization. The only people who know of his true identity are his two supervisors. Costello meanwhile has planted a mole, Colin Sullivan (Damon), inside the SIU to keep him one step ahead of the law. But being so entrenched in the lies and deception is beginning to take its toll on the two young men.
This is Scorsese’s best film since 1990’s “Goodfellas”. There’s always been a brutality to his films, and in his nearly 40 year career as a director, it doesn’t get any more violent than his saga of two undercover agents on the opposite sides of the law. What’s even more intriguing about all the violence and bloodshed is that quite a bit of it isn’t shown on camera. Costello walks out from the backroom of a bar drenched in blood, obviously having just done some serious dirty work. It keeps the air of mystery about Costello going around. You don’t know what he did, but you know it was big, bad and dirty.
Noted Russian author and playwright Anton Chekov once said that if they see a gun onstage in the first act, the audience will expect it to go off by the third. This emphasizes an attention to detail that Scorsese utilizes to make everything in his entire world, the one he created for his movie, to be expertly planned out. From the café Costigan fights the mafia in to the FBI guy sitting in on the SIU meeting. Everything means something. It makes for a much more engrossing, multi-layered film.
I could go on and on about Jack Nicholson. But come on, it’s Jack Nicholson. How do you think he did? The three people that really warrant the most praise are younger actors Damon, DiCaprio and Vera Farmiga, who plays the love interest of both Costigan and Sullivan. They steal the spotlight from consummate and seasoned veterans Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. Pay particularly close attention to DiCaprio. He’s fully shed that pin-up boyish look from the late 90’s and has this brooding, angsty maturity as Costigan that brings his tortured character to life.
One could argue that this just adds to the deterioration of American society. That it’s a glorification of violence and crime. With criminals being seen as idols to be worshipped while cops should be seen as oppressors. But looking at the cadre of violent and crime worshipping movies that have come out in the past 20 years, this one would hardly register. It’s the most entertaining film of the year, and one the best. It’s definitely one to watch come awards season.