I have to say that I’ve always enjoyed Martin Scorsese films, but I’ve never thought as highly of them as Hollywood does. The film cognoscenti kiss his ring all the time (his tuchus would be something else they kiss). He had for years a basic formula – long gone from his “Taxi Driver” days – and it has Joe Pesci running around, doing violence and spouting f-bombs. His latest, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” strays from that mold, but has the most f-bombs of any film not a documentary about the word – but no Pesci. Ho-hum. In any case, he surprised me with the dark, elegant violence and ruination of souls with his “The Departed” – a tour-de-force for Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson and easily one of the five best films ever made for the work of its entire supporting cast. It was fitting that Scorsese won his only Oscar for “The Departed” and didn’t (but was nominated) for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
(2006; 151 minutes; rated R; directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson)
A POWERFUL FILM WHERE JUST ABOUT EVERYONE DEPARTS
(NOTE: I expanded this review with some more opinion, additional trivia and the updating of links on Feb. 17, 2018.)
Movies as powerful as “The Departed” do not come along very often. The first one I saw that struck me such a visceral blow was “The Deer Hunter” in 1978. It was a deep, disturbing journey into the nation’s soul. Fast forward nearly 30 years and you’ll find “The Departed” with just as much power and an equal amount of excellence from the entire cast. “The Departed,” which won four Oscars, only comes up a bit short because it doesn’t hit some emotional chords like “The Deer Hunter,” which is about the Vietnam war.
I’m not going to have enough time to mention every actor who does a good job here. If I did, this would become a treatise instead of a review. So, let me jump right into it.
“The Departed” is the story of two rookie cops: One, Leonardo DiCaprio as “William ‘Billy’ Costigan Jr.” is a misfit loner seeking his own way in life; and the other, Matt Damon as “Staff Sgt. Colin Sullivan,” in the pocket of a gangster who’s going to help his boss by being on in the inside. The rest of the film sets up as the bad guys keep finding out what the good guys are doing and the good guys, with DiCaprio undercover in the mob, trying to find out the identity of the rat in the police station, who is Damon, of course. The pot simmers some; comes to a boil quickly in this long film (2½ hours); and finally explodes into an orgy of deception and murderous violence.
Martin Scorsese, who would win his first Oscar for directing “The Departed,” manages to work a tight, tense tale with just the right violence and an incredible amount of poison in people’s souls. It’s unlike his mob movies “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” which just wear you down with the swearing and violence. Scorsese is easily deserving of an Oscar here because of the work he got from some of the best talent in the business.
Here’s the best of the best in this one …
- Few, if any, actors have two films the quality of “Blood Diamond” (click here for my review) and “The Departed” come out in the same year, but DiCaprio scored big with both in 2006. The four-time Oscar winner (not for this one) truly came into his own that year with these two films and he’s equally powerful as the undercover cop as he was the South African diamond smuggler. DiCaprio puts every ounce of his being into the role of “Billy Costigan.” It’s as pure of acting as you’ll find on screen today and he pours his soul into every second here. DiCaprio has become the most watchable actor on the planet and headlined and got a nomination for “The Wolf of Wall Street” as well as the remake of “The Great Gatsby.” It was a total snub he wasn’t nominated for either an Oscar or Golden Globe for this one. Leo was also nominated for “Blood Diamond,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Aviator” and for best picture (but not acting) for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
- Just as effective and the epitome of evil here is three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson as gang boss “Francis ‘Frank’ Costello.” Every bit of his being is wrapped up in being evil, perpetrating evil or inflicting cruel mental and physical punishment on those who displease him or just catch his attention. “Costello” is as pure evil as you can find in cinema. Just when you believe you’ve seen it all from him, he goes another yard (check out the porn movie theater scene). It’s as good a role as you can find of his – and this is the actor who was “Col. Nathan R. Jessup,” “R.P. Murphy” and “J.J. Gittes.” Nicholson has been nominated for nine other Oscars in his legendary career. In case you needed a refresher, his Oscars are for “Terms of Endearment,” “As Good as It Gets” and, in my opinion his best after “The Departed,” is for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” His nominations range from 1969’s “Easy Rider” to “Chinatown” in 1974 to “Prizzi’s Honor” (click here for my review) in 1985 and “A Few Good Men” in 1992 with Tom Cruise.
- The third part of the deadly trio here is Oscar winner (not for this one) Matt Damon, who is the turncoat cop “Staff Sgt. Colin Sullivan.” Damon is out of character here as a bad guy who isn’t as bad as his boss, but his duplicity and depraved sense of ethics causes incredible damage in many lives. Damon almost underplays this role and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He can be offhand; he can be funny; but he isn’t as menacing as Mark Wahlberg, nor is he as evil as Nicholson. I guess that his evil is actually worse than Nicholson because he is such a whore for the mob. Damon was also outstanding in the poker film “Rounders” (click here for my review) as well as “Dogma” (click here for my review). I also liked him in the franchise of remade “Ocean’s Eleven” films (click here for my review of the first one). Damon won as co-writer along with Ben Affleck for “Good Will Hunting” and was nominated in acting roles for “Good Will Hunting,” “The Martian” (click here for my review) and “Invictus.” He was nominated with four others as filmmakers responsible for “best picture” for “Manchester by the Sea.”
- Wahlberg got one of his two Oscar nominations out of “The Departed” as he plays “Staff Sgt. Sean Dignam.” He’s excellent here, but doesn’t get the screen time he deserves. It’s ironic how much better he could have been with an expanded character but still got the nomination. He’s rough, tough and stoic – when he isn’t supremely insulting everyone in sight. Wahlberg gets to be the perfect touch to the perfect ending of a nearly perfect film. He’s even better here than he was in “Boogie Nights” and he certainly wants to forget “Pain & Gain” (I know I do and it’s one that regrettably I paid money to see in a theater). Wahlberg’s other nomination came as one of three people behind “The Fighter” in 2010.
Here’s a quick rundown on a few of the best of the best in the supporting cast:
- Golden Globe winner (not for this one) Martin Sheen plays undercover boss “Capt. Oliver Charles Queenan.” He’s about the only somewhat compassionate cop here and provides a smooth balance to DiCaprio’s emotional swings and Wahlberg’s institutionalized violence and attitude. Sheen did a nice supporting turn in “Wall Street” with son Charlie and I thought he was best in “Apocalypse Now.” He won for TV’s “The West Wing” and was nominated seven other times – four for “The West Wing” and one each for “Kennedy,” “Blind Ambition” and “The Subject was Roses.”
- Vera Farmiga plays “Madolyn Madden,” who is the love interest of Damon and does a solid job with the female lead. She plays smart and intuitive well, but if you need to identify a weak link, it’s Farminga. She doesn’t manage to elevate her character and is basically uneven in her delivery. I’m not sure how this got by Scorsese. Farmiga was nominated for an Oscar in 2010’s “Up in the Air.” She’s also a Primetime Emmy nominee for the TV series “Bates Motel.”
- Ray Winstone plays “Arnold ‘Mr. French’ French” and he’s Nicholson’s top enforcer. He is cold in both his extreme violence and personality and is the perfect choice to play second-fiddle to the boss. Winstone knocks this one out of the park with either a look or inflection of his voice. Not all actors can do one of those and he does both here. Winstone has also been in “Noah” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Whew! What an amazing line-up of stars … and the list can go on and on. Just as good is how the story continues to unfold with surprises amid the killing and more killing right up until the final scene. American cinema at its best. Right up there with “The Godfather(s)” – well, the first two anyway.
My final analysis, which grows each time I watch this one again, is that I continue to be even more impressed than the last time. “The Departed” is just that good and I’m sure if you’re reading this, then you’ve seen it. If not, get it. Fast.
“The Departed” was the 15th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 2006 with $132.3 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “The Departed” made $289.8 million on its $90 million budget, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” with $423.3 million. Also in 2006 was one of the best films you probably didn’t see (“Thank You for Smoking” – 103rd with $24.7 million – click here for my review) as well as one not so good but oh-so-funny (“Grandma’s Boy” – 176th with $6 million – click here for my review).
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- “The Departed” is the film with the most f-bombs (237) to win an Oscar. (“The Wolf of Wall Street” had more, but thankfully didn’t win an Oscar and thereby be rewarded as if it was a worthy motion picture).
- One of Hollywood’s biggest jerks, Alec Baldwin, is the one discordant casting decision here. He has also been in … ah, who cares? I don’t.
- The casting mistake that wasn’t: The talentless Tyler Perry campaigned to get the role that ultimately went to Anthony Anderson. Good call, filmmakers. Perry would have only brought down the quality of the production and Anderson is so solid here.
- Brad Pitt was originally chosen to play the character ultimately played by Damon, but he chose another project instead. Despite how much I like Pitt and know he commands your attention when he’s on screen, I’m not sure he could have done as well as Damon. Maybe, but not for sure.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Originally, Jack Nicholson turned down his role in the movie, but after a meeting with Martin Scorsese, William Monahan and Leonardo DiCaprio, he was finally convinced to play the role of Frank Costello. The main reason he joined the production was because he had previously done a few comedies, and wanted to play a villain again, and he considered the character of Costello to be the ultimate incarnation of evil.”
- Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page for “The Departed.”
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