October 16, 2006

The Departed

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Martin Scorsese has quite the closetful of taffeta: Hot-Molly-Ringwald-pink for Raging Bull, whitish ivory that doesn’t quite match any shoes for The Last Temptation of Christ, turquoise-tealish-aquamarine for GoodFellas, blood red (naturally) for Gangs of New York, and a sort of pukish orange for The Aviator that would do best in quarantine. But back there in the darkest, least explored part of his closet, Scorsese has been saving that Vera Wang gown that he’s never had the privilege of wearing. After seeing his latest and much-hyped effort The Departed, I’m convinced that it is very likely Scorsese will finally have the pleasure of taking home that golden statuette next February and putting those bridesmaid remarks to bed forever.

Basically, I could write this review in four words: Go see The Departed. This is unequivocally the best film I have seen in 2006, and it will surely stand the test of time as one of the greatest thrillers ever made. It’s based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, transported to the Boston Irish mafia underworld.

Matt Damon is Colin Sullivan, the newest addition to the elite Boston detectives that call themselves the Staties. His colleagues have no idea that he was more or less raised since the age of ten by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), the most powerful man in Boston with the least morality to boot. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a similarly stellar student at the police academy, but his interview with the detectives takes a much different turn. Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg assign him to go undercover and infiltrate Costello’s crime network, because Costigan’s uncle Jackie was a crook and the Costigan family background would leave Costello with the least doubts to his allegiances. The Departed alternates between Sullivan’s seemingly perfect life of prestige, romance and success and Costigan’s increasing anxieties at deepening himself into the lifestyle he had always attempted to escape and even fight against.

When everyone knows Sullivan as the good guy and Costigan as the criminal, the truth becomes blurry and identities are confused. Where Scorsese succeeds here is by asking the audience philosophical questions in a movie whose suspense genre tends to spawn forgettable flicks with a shelf-life of a week. Can truth become relative? If you assume a role as one person and you are the last to know its not truly what you are, don’t you become what you were just pretending to be before?

All of the actors bring their A-game to this flick. Nicholson can only be described as deliciously ruthless. You can just tell how much fun he had playing a character that has no qualms about throwing cocaine at a woman during a tryst and commanding her not to move until she’s numb. DiCaprio, Scorsese’s muse who just signed on for his fourth film with the director, brings the perfectly explosive combination of anxiety, agitation and ambivalence to keep the audience alert for two-and-a-half hours and on the side of the “good” guy at all times. The one actor who gets the shaft a little bit in The Departed’s brilliant reviews is Mark Wahlberg. I got excited every time his character Dignam waltzed onscreen with his gloriously brilliant potty mouth, adding a comedic level to the suspense and breaking up the tension for a few moments.

The screenwriters have a perfect grasp of Boston colloquialism that never once provides opportunity for doubting the realism of the film. They also served as perfect mystery-makers — never once did what I expect to happen actually happen, although what went down made even more sense after the fact.

This film is a perfect example of how simply awesome movies can be made when all of the requisite factors come together. With brilliant direction, a flawless script,and top-notch performances, The Departed is a film that will be celebrated for years. Martin Scorsese should finally get to clean out his closet.