“Heaven holds the faithful departed,” will be the last line going through your mind before “The Departed” departs on one of the most painfully satisfying storylines you will ever experience. ÿ
What is painful satisfaction? Imagine being thrown into the middle of the street by a husky Russian only to be flattened by a magical school bus (the satisfaction being that Samuel L. Jackson is the driver). Respected director Martin Scorsese has been the master of delivering such oxymoron emotions since he directed “Taxi Driver” in 1976 when he started getting the best actors in Hollywood to kill each other on-screen.
It’s no surprise then that his most brilliant works have always had something to do with a guy getting a bullet stylishly planted into his head. “The Departed” is Scorsese’s return to the days of “Casino,” “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas.” The film is evidence that no matter how contemporary a genre he basically founded becomes, he’ll always be the best at it. ÿ
Being that it’s a Scorsese-led film with a cast that most directors only dream of, the film’s plot is evidently a far cry from simplicity.
In its most basic form, however, “The Departed” is the story of two Boston cops, each with their own agenda and each with storylines just waiting to intersect with one another. Matt Damon plays a terribly unethical cop who thinks working for both the police department and Jack Nicholson’s Irish mafia is perfectly normal. On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the heroic and honorable undercover cop who is assigned to be a mole in the Irish mafia. Damon is unaware of this, hence the conflict.
There’s a great deal of irony and engaging twists as Damon and DiCaprio’s parallel yet sometimes perpendicular storylines continue to evolve and eventually come together. Ultimately, Scorsese takes multiple climaxes, stomps them on your chest and ties the underlying theme of loyalty and faithfulness together with these multiple storylines beautifully. In other words, as always, it’s more than just a bullet planted in a head; it’s a really big bullet with “thematic” written all over it. ÿ
It was only natural that Scorsese would pick up DiCaprio again after he was nominated for an Oscar for “The Aviator,” but how he knew ol’ Leo would pull off a gritty Boston undercover cop still confuses me. Yet, “Titanic”-boy proved that with a little help from Hollywood’s “Gritty-O-Matic,” even handsome DiCaprio could be a badass in Boston. As for Damon, it’s only once every good San Francisco 49ers season that he plays the bad guy and “The Departed” will probably be his best antagonist performance for a long time. ÿ
The real standout doesn’t go to either of today’s pretty boys, but rather to the legendary Jack Nicholson. Seeing him in the best love/hate role he’s had since The Joker from “Batman” was probably the sole reason Scorsese took on the project (at least it should have been). Top it off with Mark Wahlberg in an unbelievably fitting role as a heroic, badmouthing Boston cop (despite Wahlberg’s real-life history of being arrested by them) and you’ve got a cast that was born for such a brilliant story. ÿ
But what makes it all one truly worthwhile package isn’t the fact that Scorsese’s name and a dozen others are flashing in bright lights all over it; the film works because Scorsese’s filmmaking soul and the cast’s untapped talent were injected into the film’s core. DiCaprio says it best half-way through the film with the line “I’m in the room with a mass murderer and my heart rate is jacked.but my hand is steady.” Scorsese skillfully creates a vicious Boston crime world with so much history. It tosses you in with casual, believable killers and all the while your heart is racing the Indy 500. But you’re stable, your hand is steady and you are fully aware of all that is happening around you in a world you don’t want to be in. “The Departed” is an experience. Period. ÿ
Despite a background love story that never quite goes anywhere and a runtime of 2 1/2 hours that will eat up your day, “The Departed” is easily one of the most ruthless, fast-paced and painfully satisfying films you will see this year. As for those wondering if it’s better than “Goodfellas” or “Casino,” stop asking stupid questions. It’s a Scorsese mafia film and as they say in Boston, “nuff said.”