Boston. Some years ago. A blurred clip of what seems to be a racial riot. Irish mob kingpin Frank Costello(Jack Nicholson) rambles gangster philosophy on the relationship between man and his environment. A smooth dose of vintage Scorsese pours down your throat, replete with promise. Costello collects 'protection' money from a shopkeeper, passes a lewd comment on his daughter and then offers groceries, comics and a 'chance to make some extra money' to bright neighborhood kid Colin Sullivan. The vintage starts to churn up a little buzz, the first bit of a 'high'. Lil boy Sullivan grows into a cheeky Matt Dillon, who enrolls into the Police Academy and manages to work his way through the rankings until he becomes a detective for the special investigative department and acts as an insider for Costello, by now, a father figure for him. Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (Leornado Dicaprio), disillusioned by his family's connection to the mob, decides to make himself an honest career as state trooper. But instead, while being given a once-over orientation by good cop-bad cop duo(Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg), he ends up enlisting himself as an undercover cop in Costello's ranks. By now, the buzz has turned into full blown deafening Celtic bagpipe rage. And the very fact that Scorsese manages to sustain that very buzz for 150 minutes straight till the end credits is the movie's greatest achievement. It may not be in 'a league of it's own' like the greatest Scorsese but nonetheless it registers itself in the elite league that last registered 'The Inside Man'.
LIke the card carrying delegate cliche of 'The Departed' review screams, SCORSESE's BACK. But considering that his last movie was the sweeping epic 'The Aviator', he certainly didn't have much ground to cover. But the fact to cheer about is Scorsese's return to the dirt, grime and blood on the streets. And 'on the streets' is where he gets to swagger and walk his own beat and it's been sometime since one has seen him do that.
With 'The Departed' he's sacrificed good ol' New York for Boston but manages to retain the acrid taste of scrap metal and the seedy smell of the sewers that classics like 'Goodfellas' and 'Taxi Driver' invoked. But perhaps with the geographical displacement, what was lost, was a sense of flamboyance that buffeted the likes of 'Goodfellas' and to a lesser extent 'Casino' and 'Bringing out the Dead'. There's nothing here that is reminiscent of the famous 'tracking shot' introduction of the mob. Instead, 'The Departed' is precise, cold and calculating. It seems to be sticking rigorously and unpretentiously to its script, adapted brilliantly from Hong Kong thriller 'Infernal Affairs' by William Monahan. Sure there's Stones on the soundtrack, the Catholic motifs and an odd freeze-frame but Scorsese weaves it in minimum fanfare, camouflaging his presence and renown, thereby not allowing it to overwhelm and undermine the movie.
Working with a remake of high-concept script, Scorsese avoids the normal pitfalls- scene-by-scene imitation of the orginal (Criminal), milking the concept till it's bone dry and dead (J-horror remakes) and of course, the worst affliction of them all, Hollywoodisation which includes gimick based casting, trucks that collide and explode for no apparent reason and the likes of that and a soft, digestible, Farex ending (Shall we dance, The Wicker Man) instead he accomodates forgotten virtues like fleshing out of character and story, casual profanity and gorey violence. Monahan's script gets the Hong Kong out of it's system expect for a random oriental and flushes with Celtic Catholic beat that is Boston's. It takes away the antiseptic cool of the original for a more gritty, in-your-face approach.
Unlike 'Goodfellas' and 'Casino', it is not concerened with the nitty-gritties of the mob world. Rather it launches straight into the destinies of all involved in the cat-and-mouse game where everyone seems to be chasing thier own tail. It is not a chronicle of a mob saga but rather a classic Hollywood thriller that has no problem in wearing its pulpy origins as a badge. The dialogues are proof- 'Maybe yes. Maybe No. Maybe F*** you'. And occasionally, you have the wink-wink political and social dig. Like when Alec Baldwin spouts the excitement of a teenager as he exclains,"The Patriot Act! The Patriot Act!"
The acting department is a pure Scorsese ensemble. Jack Nicholson does his best psychotic wolf-man routine to the very hilt. His Costello is a bawdy, psychotic kingpin who likes to do his dirty work himself unlike a Corleone who prefers to play King Lear rather than pop a pistol. The veteran is in an orbit that is truly his own and stops just short enough of his 'Joker' personality, grounding his character in reality. Dicaprio and Damon, riffing against each other, deliver solid performances. Damon as suave and cunning as Dicaprio is disillusioned and unhinged. Baldwin and Sheen do the thesp schitck as good as it gets and Mark Wahlberg playing the typical jock that he did all the way from 'Fear' to 'Four Brothers', has fun delivering some of the best lines from the movie. Even common love intrest Vera Fermiga manages to make a lasting impression, holding her own against all the seething testesterone. And that she has a perfect 10 bod is hardly a reason.
"The Departed" is a genuinely rewarding experience. A movie that deserves more than a single viewing. A movie you'll carry around with you for years hence. A movie you'll quote from. (Will you be my fraand on orkut? Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe...)
A movie that just cannot be missed. Absolute Scorsese. Pure high.