It’s been a long wait, but apparently we are not to be entirely deprived of good cinema this year. True to recent trends, the best movies of the year have been saved for the end in an attempt, misguided or not, to increase the chances of an Oscar nomination. Martin Scorsese has directed The Departed, a film which may be his finest work to date and the one which just might get him that elusive hardware.
Sporting a stellar cast, The Departed chronicles the back and forth struggle between the Boston PD and the Irish mob. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan and Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, both recent graduates of the Police Academy. One of them becomes a spy planted in the Irish mob, while the other is a spy for the mob whom Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, has planted in the Police Department. It is not long before both organizations are aware that they have a mole but are not sure who the mole is. Let the games begin…
There is very little to criticize about The Departed. The cast lives up to its high expectations, a task made easier by the good characters and excellent dialogue provided by the screenwriters. In particular the supporting parts are entertaining, most notably Mark Wahlberg’s Dignam and Alec Baldwin’s Ellerby. The main characters, the aforementioned Costigan, Costello and Sullivan along with Vera Farmiga’s Madolyn, are right on tune. There is good chemistry throughout all of the many interactions and every scene meets the highest standards of believability.
Scorsese handles the story with his usual brutal realism and frank exposition of uncomfortable subjects. But whereas his early works were, in my opinion, more notable for the outstanding photography than for scintillating storytelling, his more recent efforts have eschewed the artistic pictures, opting for quality but very orthodox images along with an increased focus on the story. I can only applaud the effort, though certainly the story would not be hurt by a visual style which pushed the envelope more. No matter: the director has chosen and in my opinion he has chosen well.
Human drama and thrilling tension are woven throughout the film. There are times when the scenes will bring you to the edge of your seat. Nearly the entire movie moves well, often electing to interweave scenes together in short bursts rather than concentrating on one solitary scene and then moving on to the next. There is perhaps a bit more back story than is necessary, but it’s not overdone and the story is up and running in a respectable time frame.
It has a competent beginning, an increasingly captivating middle and a respectable ending. So what of that little to criticize to which I referred? That would be the scenes which continue to drag the movie on after it really should have ended. Not that they aren’t interesting in and of themselves, but after two hours of a tense ride and a denouement of momentum, the time we spend wrapping up the characters lacks luster. A more perfect script would have balanced things such that these wrap-ups occurred within the context of the greater climax. The last few scenes almost seem like the start of a sequel rather than the resolution to the previous couple hours, a problem from which Inside Man suffered earlier this year.
But its problem is not a large one. It’s a dent in the fender of a BMW. The movie was well written, better acted and put to film by a man whose day at the Academy may be coming. This is easily the best movie of the year, though I’ll stop just short of calling it a masterpiece. See it now because I can only imagine that you’ll be hearing more about it as the Oscars get nearer.
Release Date: October 6, 2006
The Upside: Most of what goes into the art of making a movie was done to impeccable standards, from pre-production to post-production. It’s truly a delight to purchase a ticket and find something like The Departed waiting behind the red curtain.
The Downside: Balance. It can be tricky to manage the ebb and flow of a movie, and The Departed would have benefited from a reworking of the ending.
On the Side: Matt Damon, a native of Massachusetts, once again is called on to supply a Boston accent for a film, something he did for Good Will Hunting.
Final Grade: A-
Matthew Alexander is a Senior Film Critic for Film School Rejects