(United States, 2006)
I have been accused in some quarters of denegrating Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong gangster film upon which The Departed is based. That was not my intention. I think Infernal Affairs is a very good movie, but I think The Departed is a great one. This is the most complete and compelling motion picture Martin Scorsese has made in almost 15 years, reaffirming the kind of artist and storyteller he can be when he is at the top of his game. Scorsese has taken an enjoyable Hong Kong genre picture and transformed it into an American epic. It's hard to imagine a better film being made from this subject fabric. Scorsese's take is brilliant in a way that recalls Goodfellas in particular. For those who, like me, have been underwhelmed by Scorsese's recent work, The Departed proves that the great director has merely been resting. Now, he has awakened with force and fury.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) both start out life on the streets of Boston's Irish American community, which is presided over by gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). From there, their paths diverge. After a rough youth, Costigan enrolls in the police academy with the goal of becoming a state trooper. Sullivan also becomes a cop, but for a different reason - he's Costello's right-hand man and will provide him with valuable inside information. Meanwhile, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) have hand-picked Costigan for a crucial job: infiltrate Costello's inner circle. It's a role he accepts and succeeds at, although not without difficulty. Thus begins a high-stakes game, with Costigan sending back information to the cops about Costello's plans while Sullivan counters by leaking police intelligence to his boss. Both moles know there are leaks, but neither is aware of the truth about the other's position.
The Departed is a perfect example of why remakes shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan have taken the Hong Kong crime flick Infernal Affairs and re-imagined it as an American epic tragedy. The original film was gritty and entertaining; the new version is a masterpiece - the best effort Scorsese has brought to the screen since Goodfellas (ending a decade-long drought of disappointments and near-misses). In making The Departed, Scorsese has retained the essential plot structure of Infernal Affairs but has transformed the movie into something truly his own. Characters are better defined and situations are given an opportunity to breathe. None of this is done at the cost of pacing; The Departed is as suspenseful as anything the director has previously achieved. This movie deserves mention alongside Scorsese's most celebrated movies: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Age of Innocence.
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