110. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) #51 in IMDB top 250
In 2002 China had a smash hit film on its hands with Infernal Affairs. The Hong Kong film industry got the international visibility it had been waiting for since the departure of John Woo and a couple of, apparently decent, sequels were swiftly pumped out. A remake was inevitable. What wasn’t inevitable was that the remake would have this kind of director and this kind of profile.
Two men graduate from the Massachusetts State Police Academy, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is sent undercover to infiltrate the Irish mafia whilst Colin (Matt Damon) is already a mole for the mafia inside the police. The web of deceit creates an increasingly tense game of cat and mouse where each man strives to outwit the other.
This film has one stellar cast – it is brimming with talent at all turns. It’s adapted from an excellent source and it has at the helm one of the finest directors in modern American cinema.
Why then, is it mildly disappointing?
Mainly it’s because of Jack Nicholson. I love Jack, we all do. I just don’t think he has any great performances left in him. In The Departed he just does another impression of himself but with a Boston accent this time, enjoyable but not quite right for a film. Each raised eyebrow from Jack threatens to send him over the edge to high camp, moustache-twirling villainy.
Next, poor Vera Farmyga as Madolyn, the love interest for both the moles. Her role is ridiculously under-written, rendering her absolutely incapable of taking any positive action throughout the course of the film – there is simply nothing independent in the part. This might not have made itself apparent if it weren’t for the advertising of The Departed constantly referencing Scorcese’s other gangster films, notably Casino and Goodfellas. Compared to the parts played by Sharon Stone and Lorraine Bracco, respectively, in those films – this is a joke.
I didn’t dislike The Departed, although it might sound like I did. It entertained me and overall the performances were strong. Mark Wahlberg had a dream role and seemed to have fun chewing the scenery. The music is used fantastically well and the opening montage is a great introduction to the characters. Unfortunately this is a lesser late work of a master – certainly not in the same league as his earlier criminal epics. The rat symbolism is peculiarly heavy-handed and the pacing is a little screwy in the last third. It’s good. It’s just not great.