If you examine the noted literary work, Dante’s Inferno you will see the sins of man graded on a scale of nine circles. At the lowest, ninth circle the horrible torments are reserved for traitors. This circle contains those people who have betrayed a solemn promise or scared trust to others. For these lowest of humanity the eternal punishment in Dante’s eyes was being embedded in ice, frozen out from their fellow man and far removed from the warmth of God’s love. Since Martin Scorsese grew up as a New York Roman Catholic there is a reasonable chance that this was part of his thinking in his latest film, The Departed. In this film Scorsese moves back from period pieces and returns after more than a decade to the genre that he does the best, the mob film. Here, no one can be trusted; not the gangsters after the big score or the police officers trying to bring them to justice. Betray is runs wild in this violent but excellently constructed film. As with most of Mr. Scorsese’s films this one is not for the faint of heart. It is violent, the language rough and the characters for the most part without redeeming qualities. In short, it is one of his best works to date.
Mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) practically controls the criminal activity in Boston, Massachusetts. He is one of the most powerful men in the city and wields that power with brute force. He is also a man who can plan for the future. He begins to groom and train a ten year old boy with the eventual goal of using the boy as a mole reporting to his crime organization. As the boy, Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) grows to manhood he becomes a trainee for the Massachusetts State Police. Also in his class at the academy is a wide selection of archetypes. Included are the likes of Barrigan (James Badge Dale), Brown (Anthony Anderson) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). The group forms a clique of their own filled with some degree of friendship as well as competition. Shortly after graduation Sullivan, now a member of State police, fulfills the plan Costello had years before and begins to provide information about police activities. Meanwhile Costigan has come to the attention of the force. He is offered a chance at some deep undercover work by his superiors, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). The plan is for Sullivan to commit and assault landing him in prison. Once there he is to ingratiate himself to Costello’s crew by selling drugs. While this is happening Sullivan has been promoted to a prize assignment, working for Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) in the exalted Special Investigation Unit. Soon, both men are working to over cover the other. Thye are locked in a deadly and violent dance. Costigan and Sullivan also have something more personal in common. Both men are romantically involved with Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a police department psychiatrist. She holds together the two faced lives of both men and has insight into just how emotionally damaged both men actually are. The situation becomes even more intense when the crime syndicate appears to be set to sell stolen missile-guidance microprocessors to Chinese agents. Although this turns out to be a red herring it ups the ante on both sides considerably. In a twist Sullivan is assigned to discover the identity of the mob mole in Special Investigations Unit. Since he is the mole he has to balance his service to two masters.
Scorsese has taken a plot from a relatively minor Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs, and turned it into one of his best films so far. He takes his familiar theme connecting sex, violence and deceit to new heights here. The Departed requires your complete attention every moment of its two and a half hour running time. Even line of dialogue is perfectly planned and executed. Scorsese weaves a tapestry of deception with the skill of a master. Also typical of this director’s style is the way he frames each shot. Every frame of this film is a piece of art. There is a level of attention to detail that few in his craft can ever dream of achieving. In many ways this film reminded my of another great director’s work, Sidney Lumet’s ‘Prince of the City’. Like that film everyone, even the camera lies to the audience. The shots here reinforce the intrigue and lies by showing the character’s viewpoints instead of a God like view of the truth. Scorsese builds the suspense slowly, turning up the heat in small increments hold the attention of the audience.
In his search for perfection Scorsese pays particular attention to his cast. Here, he selects the best of new Hollywood for the heavy lifting. Cementing the performances of these younger actors is Jack Nicholson. Once again he plays his role close to going over the edge. He is more than an actor here; he is a force of nature. Leonardo DiCaprio may have gotten his start on a television sitcom and entered the A-List with a romantic drama but here he shows his ability to hold his own in a serious thriller. Between this film and Blood Diamond, also released in 2006, DiCaprio has shown the world the depth of his acting talent. He permits the audience to witness the decent of a man into a world in which he has no control. DiCaprio completely owns his character making an strong emotional connection with the viewer. Matt Damon is getting a reputation as the go to actor for intense, action oriented roles. Like his co-star DiCaprio he also gave a stellar performance in another 2006 film, ‘The Good Shepard’. Unfortunately for both men having two such strong roles will certainly split the votes during award season. In this film Damon mirrors DiCaprio’s character. He gives a presentation of his character as a man just as trapped as his counterpart but for somewhat different reasons. One of the weakest performances is by Vera Farmiga. She is not able to fully connect with her character and sell the role to the audience. While it is true that most female roles in a Scorsese film are ancillary to the more dominate male characters other actresses have done a much better job of relating to their characters.
Warner Brothers has given this film the DVD treatment it so richly deserves. There are thee variations so far, a Pan & Scan, widescreen and special edition. Considering Scorsese is one of the most outspoken directors against running films with Pan & Scan it would be disrespectful to even consider the purchase of that format. Besides, with most films, especially a Scorsese film, you really need to seen every pixel intended. Since the price difference between the widescreen and special edition is about $5 retail go for the special edition if at all possible. You will enjoy the added material provided. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is excellent, near reference quality. The color balance is like that of an old world painting, simply perfect. The contrast is without flaw or defect. The Dolby 5.1 audio will give a workout to your speaker system. The violent scenes will give a workout for your sub woofer. The rear speakers bring a realistic ambience to your living room. In the special edition you also get nine additional scenes with a commentary by Scorsese. He details why they were made and more importantly why they didn’t make the final cut. There are also two fascinating featurettes, ‘The Story of the Boston Mob’ and ‘Crossing Criminal Cultures’. If you are a Scorsese fan or just enjoy great films than this is a must have. If you never got into his work just where have you been?