Saturday, March 31, 2012

Retro Review: The Departed

Last night, my friends and I popped in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award winning film The Departed, for what is approximately our twentieth viewing. It occured to me that as many times we go back and watch old movies, that it would be nice for me to share my thoughts via a retroactive review. So in honor of last night's movie, here is my first stab at looking at the past.

The Departed is the story of two men, whose lives are so interconnected, yet they never meet (until the end that is). Billy Costegan (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a police academy drop out, who, due to his extensive family connections to the Irish Boston mob, is handpicked by the state police's undercover unit to infiltrate the inner circle in order to bust up organized crime. Led by a fatherly Captain Queenan (played excellently by the great Martin Sheen), and the always-angry Dignam (played a little too bit over the top by Mark Whalberg), Billy follows the path of crime, to jail, to court-appointed shrink, in order to prove his wroth, and begins to sink even deeper into the layers of the mob. On the opposite side is top of his class Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), pratically raised in the streets by the mob's leader Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).  He quickly makes his way to the top, all the while acting as a mole for Costello in the state police. He begins to see a therapist (the always-great Vera Farmiga), who in an ironic twist of fate is also the shrink for Billy. As Costello's operation becomes more and more attack by the police, the mole and the rat find it harder to maintain their cool, and they finally meet in an epically shocking and violent conclusion.

The Departed may not stack up against some of Martin Scorsese's earlier dark classics like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas, but it is still one of the best films of the last decade. It's whipping fast pace, thanks to the fantastic editing skills of the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker, keeps it constantly entertaining with an almost lyrical movement, and its incredible cast doesn't, for the most part, disappoint. Furthermore, it is an unapologetically violent, brash, and crude. While this may make some viewers shy away, it is what keeps Martin Scorsese great. He goes to places that many directors are afraid to tread. Some critics have complained that some of the characters, and the constant use of the f-word, are a little bit over the top. On a personal note, sometimes Jack Nicholson and Mark Whalberg can seem like they are trying a little too hard. While they make a substantial point, I think that Monahan and Scorsese meant that to be the case, to emphasize the larger-than-life personalities, and the Boston Irish background of most of its characters.

What makes The Departed such an entertaining movie experience is the depth and exciting nature of its storyline and characters. This is truly a film that you can watch 5 or 6 times before you really catch every little detail that is etched into its frames. You can watch it 5 or 6 times before you fully understand the complexity and intertwining fate of our characters.

I still think that Martin Scorsese, and the film deserved the Oscars that they received, although for my money it should have been his third, not first. The Departed deserves to be placed in line with other great gangster classics, by being incredibly entertaining, and unafraid to be brutally honest and violent. It is a brash and almost musical work that excites all the senses and that truly keeps you guessing and glued to the screen until its last brilliant frame.

Grade: A

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