Jack Nicholson. Martin Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio. Matt Damon. Mark Whalberg. Martin Sheen. All that is left is an opening credit voiceover from Michael Buffer: “Ding ding ding… Let’s get ready to rumble!”
But leave it to director Marty Scorsese, the man who invented the wheel when it comes to cop dramas, to bring together this mammoth cast and this awesome plot and still manage to steal the entire Oscar billowing film with a jaw dropping ending. He’s a tricky bastard, and that is what makes him so great.
The Departed is Scorsese’s return to his roots as the king of the crooked cops and robbers genre. It begins as what seems to be a classic good guy/bad guy story, but spends its 2.5 hour runtime blurring the line between right and wrong, much to the delight of the audience. On the side of good is Leo DiCaprio as Billy, a wannabe State Police Officer whose rugged past lands him a spot as an undercover man working for the calm mentor Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and a foul mouthed tough-guy sergeant (Mark Whalberg). Also seemingly on the side of good is Colin (Matt Damon), a highly driven promotion happy cop whose roots run just as deep in the dark alleys of South Boston, but are kept secret from the rest of the police force. His undercover assignment works in reverse as he finds himself in the hip pocket of a nasty crime boss.
In the form of the afore mentioned crime boss, Scorsese delivers Jack Nicholson in the role for which his die hard fans have been yearning for about 10 years. As mob boss Frank Costello, Nicholson dominates a film filled with great performances, mixing Socrates with The Godfather to become a badass Irish mobster like no other. You can’t help but salivate over something like that. Costello is an intelligent, irreverent and overtly racist character that is as scary as he is cool, it is Jack being Jack at the top of his game.
The rest of the performances are nothing short of sensational as well. DiCaprio holds the emotional weight of the film in his telling facial expressions and tight delivery while Matt Damon gives the audience someone to hate; he is charismatic and charming on the outside, and a cold, heartless traitor on the inside. But big talent aside, the supporting roles are what keep the audience engaged. Mark Whalberg is superb, clearly the standout despite slim screen time; Alec Baldwin does what only Alec Baldwin can, capturing the true essence of an asshole as Ellerby, the leader of the Police’s anti-Costello team; and Vera Farmiga, the film’s only leading lady, is a welcome surprise.
But great acting aside, this film’s greatest accomplishment comes from its director, whose style is remarkable and whose vision is always innovative. Martin Scorsese loves to tell a stories about America, and this is his opus to real American cops and robbers. The cinematography is clean, aggressive when it needs to be and smooth when the director wants us to pay close attention. The dialog is the driving force of the first 2 hours of the film, wrapping the audience in this web of deception and intrigue, then the film explodes with action that leads to an ending that, like it or love it, is pure genius. No matter what you think of The Departed, there is no doubt that you will be left to stare at the credits with only one thought in mind, Wow!