Friday, November 19, 2010

The Departed

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/7/06 w/ Minor Edits.

Throughout his long, four-decade career, Martin Scorsese is considered to be one of the great living directors with such classic films as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. While other films like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundun, and more recently, 2004's The Aviator revealed Scorsese's range in telling stories. Despite his success as a director and producer, Scorsese remains an avid film buff while supporting young film directors in order to discover and nurture new talent while restoring old films from around the world. After doing the epic dramas of The Aviator and 2002's Gangs of New York that both starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese decides to return to the crime film genre that's made him famous in such film like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino by looking into the world of Asian cinema by remaking the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs.

Directed by Andrew Lau and Mak Siu Fai that starred Tony Leung and Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs was a crime story about a cop who goes undercover by being a gang member for a mob leader. Meanwhile, the mob leader sent a mole into the police world as the undercover cop and the mole try to expose each other. The film was widely acclaimed all over the world while it had comparisons to some of the work by Scorsese who noticed the film. The result would be Scorsese deciding to direct a remake entitled The Departed with screenwriter William Monahan. Taking the location to Boston, Scorsese goes for a full-on crime thriller where it remains true to the narrative of Infernal Affairs. With an all-star cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone, Anthony Anderson, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Corrigan, Martin Sheen, and Jack Nicholson. The Departed is pure Scorsese in the crime-drama genre that he's mastered.

Ever since he was a kid, Sullivan (Matt Damon) has always looked up to reputed local mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). With Mr. French (Ray Winstone) on his side, Costello was a feared figure in the streets of Boston as Sullivan decides to dedicate his loyalty by joining the police force in order to tip off Costello about everything. Around the same time he was in the academy, a young cadet named Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is training to be a state trooper. When Costigan's background, that involved relatives connecting to Costello, is revealed to an undercover captain in Queenan (Martin Sheen) and a sergeant named Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), Costigan is asked to go undercover as he pretends to be a criminal who had been kicked out of the academy.

While Costigan makes his mark as a criminal that included assist from his coke-dealing cousin Sean (Kevin Corrigan), Sullivan makes his way up to the investigations team as he is supervised by Queenan and Ellerby (Alec Baldwin). Ellerby's target is Costello which he hopes to bust as Sullivan teams up with Delahunt (Mark Rolston) to catch criminals while leading his own team that included Brown (Anthony Anderson). Costigan meanwhile, makes an impression on Costello after beating up not just a local patron but another incident in a shop where he beat up two guys from a Providence syndicate. Costello takes up Costigan considering his background and connection where Costigan often involves himself in schemes with French. The only contact Costigan has is in Queenan and Dignam where Costigan is often in fear for his life and often wants to be out.

After befriending and gaining a new girlfriend in police psychologist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), Sullivan is doing good as a cop yet he remains loyal to Costello. When word gets out that Costello plans to sell a bunch of microchips to a Chinese triad gang in connection with the government, both Sullivan and Costigan make word to their superiors. Suddenly, the deal is a success for Costello though Sullivan has just learned that a mole is in Costello's group while Ellerby learns that a mole is there working for Costello. With Costigan becoming paranoid, he turns to Madolyn for evaluation where the two struck a friendship where his weariness of his role has become troubling. Even after he's suspected to be the mole. Sullivan meanwhile, gets a message from Costello as there's a new mission for Sullivan and Costigan where they have to find each other to expose themselves.

With Sullivan learning that Queenan has an undercover agent, he hopes to find the mole only to learn that everything has become confusing. Costigan meanwhile, learns something about Costello that could shake up everything that Queenan and Dignam wants. With Costigan and Sullivan getting closer to each other to reveal their roles, everything becomes blurry about loyalty and who is working for who.

Crime films are nothing new to Martin Scorsese since films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino reveal the world of crime in all of its glory and decadence. In this film, Scorsese isn’t trying to say anything new rather than making a study of loyalty and morals. Still, Scorsese does have something to say about this film and that is, don't trust anyone. Taking notes from the original film Infernal Affairs, he makes an engaging, psychological, dramatic crime film into something grander and more epic while being true to what the original film had. The result is truly Martin Scorsese at his best and giving the film not just characters that are very complex but also presenting the film in grand style right smack in the middle of Boston.

Helping Scorsese tell the story is screenwriter William Monahan, whose previous credit was the somewhat-underrated Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott. A native of Boston, Monahan takes advantages of the locales and language of Boston into something that is very authentic. Particularly in the dialogue where everyone talks like they're from Boston and have a certain attitude that makes it authentic. Monahan's structure for the script is wonderful in its study and momentum on revealing the identity of the mole and vice versa. Yet, when the moles confront each other, something else goes on where it pays true to the original film Infernal Affairs. Even in the ending where the approach from Monahan's script and Scorsese's direction is a bit more grim yet playful. The result is a wonderfully crafted, intelligent, and fun script from Monahan.

Still, the film belongs to Scorsese who mixes amounts of humor and conflict into his film. Scorsese as a director really plays up to style whether he's creating several shots where the camera is surrounding the character for a long time or staying still to observe a scene. Scorsese really goes for a presentation where he plays a game with the audience on what's going on and how the characters really present themselves. Even a love triangle subplot involving Sullivan/Madolyn/Costigan doesn't feel contrived other than the fact that it connects them in a way that is more intriguing. Scorsese's psychological directing and the way he brings Sullivan and Costigan together is really amazing, notably a scene where cell phones are involved and there's a moment of silence that creates this great tension. Even Scorsese's approach to violence is graphic yet playful to the point that he knows he's making a mob movie and he doesn't get soft with it. Overall, Scorsese proves himself yet again in why he's one of the best.

Longtime cinematographer Michael Ballhaus helps Scorsese with his presentation in creating intimate, exterior settings with flashes of dark, color in the film's interior settings at night while a scene in the Chinese part of town is filled with flashy colors. Longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker works her magic in the editing where taking the film's epic, 150-minute running time a nice, leisurely pace that doesn't feel too slow or too fast. Schoonmaker's cutting style filled with bits of freeze-frames, jump-cuts, and perspective cuts that plays to the film's rhythm and intensity to create the tension. Production designer Kristi Zea with art directors Teresa Carriker-Thayer and Nicholas Lundy do great work on the Boston locales by with posh look of the apartments and restaurants to the more working-class, grimy look of the streets with additional locations set in New York City.

Costume designer Sandy Powell also does great work in the costumes with the decoration of the Boston Police Department suits to the posh suits of Costello and the clothing of his girlfriend Gwen (Kristen Dalton). Sound editor Phillip Stockton also does great work in playing to the film's conflicting atmosphere of the Boston locales and the use of cell phones to create the tension of some scenes. Score composer Howard Shore creates a very plaintive score that doesn't have a lot of orchestral flourishes rather than play to subtle, Spanish guitar setting to create the troubling mood of Costigan. The soundtrack is very true to Scorsese's love of rock with a lot of stuff from the Rolling Stones plus a track from the Dropkick Murphys that is pure Boston and a cover-of-sorts of the Pink Floyd classic Comfortably Numb that's taken from the Roger Waters live album The Wall: Live in Berlin that is performed by Waters with Van Morrison and the Band where Scorsese only used the part that Van Morrison and the Band did to convey the emotions of Costigan in his relationship with Madolyn.

Finally, there's the cast and it's an amazing ensemble. Some notable small performances from Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston, Kevin Corrigan, Kristen Dalton, along with Robert Wahlberg as an FBI agent, Robert "Toshi" Kar Yun Chan as a Triad boss, James Badge Dale and David O'Hara as a couple of Costello's men, and Conor Donovan as the young Colin are all memorable for their small yet minor performances. Vera Farmiga is excellent in her role as Madolyn as a woman unaware that she is caught in a dangerous triangle as she is charmed by the more likeable Sullivan and drawn to the more troubled Costigan. Farmiga is excellent in her role that could've been contrived if performed by another actress. Ray Winstone gives an intimidating yet cool performance as Mr. French whose knowledge of the crime world is intriguing as his loyalty to Costello as Winstone gives a great performance. Alec Baldwin is really a scene-stealer in the role of Ellerby as a tough-as-nails captain who is willing to do anything by law to capture Costello while saying some hilarious one-liners that gives the right note of authenticity since he is from New England.

Martin Sheen is really great as the sympathetic Queenan who tries to help Costigan with his role while being the only real friend aside from Madolyn to comfort him with the role as Sheen plays a great father figure. Mark Wahlberg gives one of his best performances as a man that can be described in one word, a hard-*ss. Wahlberg steals every scene he's in with a flurry of insults, back-talk, and name-calling that only Wahlberg could play a character as mean as Dignam who can help you but he won't be your friend. Jack Nicholson is perfect as Frank Costello because Frank Costello is cool, funny, and intimidating in all of the right notes. Nicholson may be playing himself but who cares? Nicholson looks like he's having fun while really playing a guy who seems to have it all only to get paranoid and weary as his character is troubled by the idea of a mole as Nicholson's response to the rat with a rat face is comic gold. 

Matt Damon gives a great performance as Colin Sullivan where as a cop, he's a likeable yet tough kind of guy who knows how to play the right notes. When Damon is immersed in his real role as a mole, he's more organized, cautious, and to-the-point when talking to Nicholson as the two have great chemistry. Damon proves himself to be a far more complex actor who can hide under a mask while retaining his good looks and charm. It's a great performance from Damon. Leonardo DiCaprio also proves himself to be a great actor, despite his detractors, as Billy Costigan. DiCaprio definitely gives in to his tough side in the way he beats up people while showing more of his vulnerability in his role while having great scenes with Nicholson in being a sidekick. DiCaprio definitely goes into character while also displaying a fine Boston accent to make him more authentic while his scenes with Matt Damon are great in how the two actors prove to be engaging in their performances.

After a couple of epic, ambitious, made-for-Oscar films, Martin Scorsese finally returns to familiar territory with The Departed. In his best film since Goodfellas, The Departed has all of the elements to become another enjoyable mob picture thanks to a great script by William Monahan, Michael Ballhaus' camera, Thelma Schoonmaker's editing, the soundtrack, and a superb cast led by DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg, Nicholson, Sheen, Baldwin, Farmiga, and Winstone. Fans of Infernal Affairs will appreciate Scorsese's faithfulness to the original film while being aware that Scorsese is a master in this genre. In the end, The Departed is another superb film from the great Martin Scorsese.

© thevoid99 2010

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