Quick Hit: The rare “cops and criminals” thriller that really lives up to its own premise.
It had been quite some time since I had watched The Departed (if memory serves, it was 2008, first year in college, devouring anything I could in the Fantastical World of Film). I’m a much older man now, with a myriad of blessings that I can’t innumerate here (if you thought my first SLIFF post was long…). Therefore, as I placed the movie into the Blu-Ray player, nestled in my basement on the cool leather of my couch, I felt a slight apprehension sitting inside my stomach. Would the movie be as good as I remembered? Had I wasted the $5 I had bought it for when Blockbuster (RIP) went out of business?
Um, no David. Trust your instincts young fella.
The Departed was just as good, if not better than I remembered it. The story of a mole from the state police (Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio) inside a criminal outfit vs. the story of a mole (Colin Sullivan played by none other than Shannon’s precious Matt Damon) from the criminal outfit inside the state police is simply too great a hook to be overcome. But the story itself comes secondary to the extraordinary life that the actors (and actress) bring to their roles. I’ll give a brief summary of the plot – but just go see the movie yourself.
Billy and Colin have both just graduated from the police academy. Colin has done so at the urging of father figure/supporter Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), while it is obvious that Billy has done so in order to get past the criminal history of his family. Billy is quickly assigned to an undercover job inside Costello’s group, and Colin continues to move up the ladder at the police force. As they continue to circle each other, we feel the noose tightening around their necks, their arms, their legs, until we cannot fathom how either will escape. Throw in a police psychiatrist Madolyn (played perfectly by the excellent Vera Farmiga) that is intimately involved with both of them, and you’re in for quite a ride in the film.
Scorsese really does a number with his directing here, never shying away from the violence, and allowing shadows and lighting to play their role. I would never do anything to take away from his performance here, but the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is masterful. She cuts clips together perfectly, and at times, when Scorsese speeds up everyday actions in order to keep the pace of the film, it is done in a “blink and you’ll miss it” style that is gorgeous upon the screen. She deserved that Oscar folks.
I struggle to find things to type about this movie because it is the type of movie that film classes are taught on. The sporadic gore, the lingering shots on background, the sometimes overt symbolism (the only negative to the film for me) are all things that can be placed upside some of the great thrillers of our time. Most of them are Scorsese trademarks, and it’s no wonder that people copy them.
But the acting! Oh the acting. Leo may have won his first Oscar this year, but this one was the one that got away. I think he was hurt by the fact that Blood Diamond came out at the same time, and that was the one that he was nominated for. In this author’s humble opinion, his performance here is much better. As I watched him waste away on screen from the beautiful boy that looked like he could be next to his character Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can another of those movies I would recommend to anyone and everyone) to a man that looks at the end of his rope. What’s amazing is the mirrored performance put on by Matt Damon, allowing his perfectly good guy face to morph into one that shows all the strain this life has put on him.
Nicholson is also good here, with a wonderful mix of previous characters (such as the Joker, Jack Torrance, and R.P. McMurphy) to draw from. He mixes in the perfect amount of caring, disgust, and angst from his performance. There is a moment where he is conversing with Billy about the mole within his organization, and he states “Heavy is the head that where’s the crown”. In some ways, you can tell this is bait for Billy, but what’s amazing is Nicholson’s ability to make you believe it is bait and that it’s true.
I could go on much further, but I much touch on two other performers (many apologies to Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin). First, Mark Wahlberg as Dignam steals the show every time he’s on the screen. He makes you laugh, hate, and respect him all at the same time (not to mention his ridiculous haircut). But for me, the best performer in this film was Vera Farmiga. She somehow conveys all the love you could have for multiple characters, whilst maintaining her independence as woman. She can be cold and sharp as an icicle, or incredibly seductive without trying to be (If you haven’t watched her in Bates Motel, I’d recommend it, at least for a season or two).
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"