“I don’t want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me.” – Frank Costello
Where do I start with this one. No one can really deny Martin Scorsese the title of being perhaps the greatest director of all time, with movies such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and King of Comedy to name but a few. But it took him over 30 years before he won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing in 2006 for The Departed. It was also somewhat a return to form to which we have all been used to over the years; gritty, violent thrillers that deal with crime and real life dramas, in the backdrop of a troubled city.
Set in South Boston, it tells the story of Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) a bright young graduate of the Massachusetts State Police Academy who is taken to the side by Queenan (Martin Sheen) and assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by Irish-American gangland leader Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Parallel to Billy’s ordeal is the story of Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) another “Statie” graduate who for years has served as a protégé under Costello and finally becomes his informer inside the Police Department, working his way slowly to the top.
If that’s doesn’t whet your appetite enough, what makes this even more interesting is the fact that both Costigan and Sullivan, through deep consumption of their double life, become fully aware of each others presence within the opposing factions and throughout the course of the movie battle wits – while never actually identifying each other – in an attempt to unmask the other “rat”.
It really is an amazing back and forth struggle between the law and the criminals and proves for a highly intriguing, tense build up to a fairly shocking ending. There’s many reasons why this movie works well. The script – based on Infernal Affairs – is written superbly by William Monahan (Body of Lies, Kingdom of Heaven) and the story weaves in and out intricately between the good guys and bad guys, and even blurring the space between the two. That could just be me though, I love to root for the bad guys, and who doesn’t love Jack Nicholson being the villain?
That by no means makes Billy Costigan our hero. DiCaprio portrays him perfectly as a young man doing everything he can to distance himself from his past – his Uncle was in the Mob and close friends with Costello – but it’s that very vulnerable factor that makes him who he is and gives him the tools to do his job once recruited by Queenan.
There’s no doubt DiCaprio had paid his dues and worked extremely hard at his craft over the years but for me it wasn’t until he took this role that he truly shined on the screen and put himself head and shoulders above a lot of other actors. He has this incredible ability to convey tense emotions with tender delivery. He’s the guy every other guy wants to be. After this he would ascend to superstardom but also win a helluva lot of fans and critics alike with this performance. It paved the way for him to work with the likes of Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and again with Scorsese (the 4th time) on Shutter Island.
Matt Damon, just like Leo, gives a performance of a lifetime as the intelligent, pretty boy cop with a sharp mind and sharp mouth, and could be considered just as much the “lead”. Throughout the movie he helps Costello build his mountain of gold whilst somehow remaining under the radar of Costigan, who quickly becomes one of Costello’s main boys. He does as much as Leo to penetrate the story forward and there are a few times throughout were you feel genuinely sorry for his character, who sometimes feels pressured and trapped in this web of deceit.
The support cast are almost faultless also. Nicholson the evil puppet master and Ray Winstone as his quick fisted, beer bellied number two Mr. French both shine valiantly as villains and even on certain occasions provide some laugh out loud moments. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are flawlessly cast as two grizzly, veteran Police Chiefs who have seen it all before. One of the real diamonds in the rough however is Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Sgt. Dignam. Full of endless quick witted comebacks and insults, he comes across as a bit of jester but never ever lacks any punch behind his banter. He’s definitely one of the good guys. Vera Farmiga plays the sexy shrink caught up in a love triangle, which does at times feel unnecessary but to its credit allows us some respite from the criminal aspects of the main plot and also gives us a little insight into the human side of both Costigan and Sullivan’s lives.
While this may not quite rank up there with the likes of Goodfellas (one of my all time favourites) I think it definitely deserves its place in movie history and can be lauded as one of Scorsese’s finest moments. You disagree? Well then Sgt. Dignam has a few words for you…
“Are you calling us cunts?”
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter