Departed, indeed. This memorable, fast-paced experience shows the destructive power of various cops and criminals cut under (either justly or unjustly) by a devilish world of corruption, greed, and crime. You see and hear a lot of wrong things, ranging from racial slurs to blatant violence as one characters says, “Things you don’t even want to know about.”
Big name stars headline a long, twisting plot full of surprises set in the Boston, Massachusetts of some years ago. The star power factor here helps mark the first time a Martin Scorsese-directed film has launched in more than 2000 theaters. Scorsese and screenwriter/Boston native William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) also use the 149-minute running time to show how two police detectives dive into this world so deep that the audience can’t help but invest emotionally in their situations.
Matt Damon returns to familiar settings as Boston State Police Special Detective Colin Sullivan. His counterpart lead, Leonardo DiCaprio, plays Billy Costigan, a local with a troubled family past and some deeply committed motivations. Scorsese creates an interesting duality in these characters. The middle of the film contains an amazing sequence where you see the “good one” acting rough and unappealing while the “bad one” charms, laughs, and enjoys himself.
Scorsese uses the kinetic Jack Nicholson as his main plot catalyst, crime boss Frank Costello. Jack maintains a steady, callous tone while only teetering near the outlandish in one scene with DiCaprio in a restaurant. Nicholson has no problem with screen presence and, predictably, has several memorable moments after initiating the ruthless tone of the film. “When you face a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” he says when questioned about the difference between cops and criminals.
The filmmakers weave each supporting character into the film distinctively and creatively, making the film even more interesting to watch. British actor Ray Winstone plays Frank’s right hand man Mr. French, while Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen play various police officers. Wahlberg’s noticeable portrayal as Dignam is not meant to divert or misdirect attention, but just reinforces a constant theme of passionate, flagrant, and severe actions on both sides of the law.
The supporting role with the most involvement/depth goes to rising star Vera Farmiga, who plays Madolyn, a police psychologist. Scorsese expertly eases her into the plot as a prominent character after establishing the three male leads. Filmmakers draw from a large vat of material to produce these visceral visuals. The screenplay is adapted from the 2002 Hong Kong film Wu jian dao, aka Infernal Affairs, and the Frank Costello character was based on Whitey Bulger, a notorious South Boston gangster.
The minimal set-ups between events keeps the long runtime pretty brisk, while strong characters and their connections to several seemingly obscure events web the plot together well. Composer Howard Shore (Silence of the Lambs) creates a memorable score complemented by several well-chosen songs, which overlap and abruptly cut amid the action.
Recommended and rated R for violence, racial slurs, language, drug related content, and sexual references/content. Scorsese keeps the most graphic scenes relatively short while still getting the point across, but their unpredictable frequency can still surprise you.