BY NEIL FAUERSO
Hallelujah! He’s back. After the triumph Goodfellas and the highly underrated Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese went into a controlled tailspin for the next 13 years. His best movies (The Aviator, Kundun, Casino) didn’t really feel like Scorsese movies, just highly competent and entertaining big-budget flicks. His worst films (Gangs of New York, Bringing Out the Dead) were unequivocal train wrecks, movies so disastrously off track you wondered if the man who made some of the most beautiful, powerful, and electric movies of all time had permanently lost it.
Thankfully, that fear is emphatically false. With The Departed Scorsese returns to the intangible burn that made Taxi Driver and Raging Bull such singular experiences. It’s all here—the white heat performances, roulette wheel editing, and joyous use of pop music (Rolling Stones, Nas, Van Morrison, and The Band doing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”!). For the first time in over a decade, Scorsese seems to be enjoying himself, reveling in the ecstatic immediacy of film.
The Departed is an adaptation of the brooding and smart Hong Kong thriller Internal Affairs, but it is very much its own film. With a rapid-fire (and deeply lived-in) script by William Monahan, and Michael Bauhaus’s mythic framing of Boston, Scorsese takes an Eastern aesthetic and applies his own, now blissfully familiar street code to it.
At the center of The Departed is the biblically evil and devilishly comic mob-boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who seemingly owns Boston’s Southside. Frank has groomed Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) since he was a boy to infiltrate the police department as his mole. Conversely, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Southside guy, whose family had ties to Costello, becomes a mole for the police, infiltrating Costello’s gang. The movie walks a tightrope as these two men shadow each other and increasingly lose grip of their true identities.
The Departed is not as grittily authentic as some of Scorsese’s other masterpieces. It’s more cinematic and relies on a heavy dose of coincidence. But ultimately, this doesn’t detract from the film. The Departed, like most of Scorsese’s best films, is concerned with the passions amidst a landscape of personal hell, and in that regard it’s resoundingly believable.
All of the stunningly impressive cast show up. Damon and DiCaprio, alongside the great Christian Bale, establish themselves as the leaders of the new acting class. Damon is perfect as the cocky but ever-wilting Sullivan, while DiCaprio is all intense vulnerability and raging sadness. Nicholson, in a nice return to his madmen characters, plays Costello perfectly—equal parts hedonism, sadism, and drunken, melancholic weariness. Just as good are Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and Ray Winstone in colorful supporting roles.
The Departed runs 150 minutes, but felt like a breezy 90. It is rare that such a hyped and anticipated movie lives up to and exceeds its expectations. Of all the undercover cop films made, this one’s tops. It’s hard to imagine anything better. A