© 2006 Ray Wong
When we combine Martin Scorcese with a hard-boiled gangster story, we come to expect certain quality. Based on Hong Kong action film Internal Affairs (Wu Jian Dao), The Departed has all of Scorcese's signatures and intensity. Still, I am not sure if it belongs up there with his other masterpieces.
Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Damon) are two Irish boys who grow up on opposite sides of the law. Sullivan is loyal to organized crime boss Costello (Nicholson). Joining the Boston State Police and climbing up the ladder, Sullivan becomes a mole, the eyes and ears for Costello. Meanwhile, detectives Queenan (Sheen) and Dignam (Wahlberg) recruit Costigan to become an undercover operative for them, infiltrating Costello's nest and feeding the "Staties" invaluable information.
Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game through the glossy lifestyle and dirty underbelly of Boston's organized crime. Sullivan is able to keep Costello stay one step ahead of the police, while Costigan succeeds in gaining Costello's trust. The tension, though, is keeping both men sleepless at night. Complicating matters is that Costigan is a patient of psychiatrist Madolyn (Farmiga), who happens to be Sullivan's girlfriend. Soon the two men realize their positions are being jeopardized by a "rat" in each other's camp, and they're determined to smoke each other out without revealing their true identities.
DiCaprio (Aviator) is Scorcese's new Robert De Niro. Intensity, personal torment, and anxiety are evident through his portrayal of Billy Costigan. We come to care about whether he's in too deep and how he's going to sail through everything. Damon (Syriana) is also impressive as the "rat." His smarmy ways make us want to smack him upside the head. DiCaprio and Damon have created a nice contrast with each other, even though they don't share much screen time together.
Nicholson (Something's Gotta Give) seems to always play the same role. But! He's so good at that. Ruthless and scummy, his Costello still wins us over with his zest and, well, ruthlessness. He sure is a colorful SOB. Sheen (Bobby) also manages to win our trust and affection as Queenan. Wahlberg (Invincible) plays the potty-mouthed, abrasive special agent with gusto, but his role is way two-dimensional to leave any lasting impression. Farmiga (Breaking and Entering) stands out as the woman caught between two men and their lies, kept in the dark until the end. Baldwin (Running with Scissors) has a fun role as Sullivan's clueless boss.
The script by Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) is tight and suspenseful. He makes great use of intersecting plots and timelines to weave an engaging, knuckle-cracking story. Adapted from Hong Kong's Internal Affairs, the script focuses more on the men's psyches and relationships and less on the action. There are still gore and extreme violence and language that would make a sailor blush, but the psychological aspect of the film is what makes it really tick.
Director Scorsese (Aviator) is a true master. His pacing is impeccable. All his cinematic skills and tricks work flawlessly together, transparent yet making the film a sensorial feast. The editing also plays a key role in the fruition of this suspenseful tale. The crosscutting and intersecting of plot and timelines are inventive but clear. The audiences are led through a maze of deceits, betrayals and loyalty without losing a step.
Unfortunately, the first two-thirds of the film is so tightly woven and gripping that it makes the ending look half-boiled. To me, the ending fizzles out so badly that I wonder if the same man wrote it. Even with its plot holes and inconsistency, most of the film is highly plausible and holds our interest and empathy for the characters. At the end, though, that feeling of trust has vanished. I am not going to give away the plot, but what transpires at the end turns into tricky twists that feel out of place. Worse, somehow the ending betrays our connection to the characters, leaving us with a bad taste in the mouth as the last reel starts to roll.
We've gone through a wild ride with these characters and grown attached to them. The ending is clever, and you feel like the screenwriters want to look clever. Sadly, it makes the ending highly unsatisfactory for this reviewer. I don't need a happy ending -- in fact, I demand an unhappy ending for the genre -- but I want to feel rewarded at the end of this experience about betrayals. Instead, I end up departing the theater feeling defeated and betrayed myself.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alece Baldwin
Director: Martin Scorcese
Writers: William Monahan (based on screenplay "Wu Jian Dao" by Alan Mak and Felix Chong)
Distributor: Warner Bross.
MPAA Rating: R for strong, brutal violence, pervasive language, strong sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 149 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.3 out of 10