With Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Reviewed by JB

     Despite the honors given to the film and its director at the 2007 Oscars, THE DEPARTED is average Scorsese at best.  Not a terrible thing when you consider the company - THE COLOR OF MONEY and CAPE FEAR are average Scorsese too.  Average Scorsese is like average Hitchcock, meaning a splendid time is guaranteed for some if not all.  Clearly, the Academy took advantage of a weak field of films in 2006 and used to opportunity to honor Scorsese for his lifetime of work, after snubbing such film as RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS in the past.

     THE DEPARTED is not up to the standard of some of Scorsese's previous films, such as the aforementioned GOODFELLAS (clearly the best picture of 1991).  It lacks the freshness of MEAN STREETS, the energy of CASINO, and the rage of RAGING BULL.   It also lacks the Robert De Niro factor.  This is not to say that every Scorsese film needs De Niro, but rather to point out that today's crop of young actors, who range from excellent to "how did he ever get into movies?" do not bring the same gravitas that Scorsese's old crowd of De Niro, Pesci, et al  did. Leonardo DiCaprio is now Scorsese's favorite actor, and, as always, he does a damn fine job.  I am beyond the point of qualifying a DeCaprio performance with the words "surprisingly good" - I am now willing to call him one of the best of his generation.  The older cast members, like Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, are wasted in bland parts.  Jack Nicholson, as a Boston crime boss, refrains from chewing up the scenery.  He is still playing "Jack Nicholson" as he often does in films these days, but it's a toned down version, and it works for this film.  Vera Farmiga, as a psychiatrist, does well in one of those completely thankless roles that actresses too often get these days.  (I thought I'd seen Farmiga in other films, but it turns out that she is an actress that has an uncanny resemblance to about five other fellow female thespians.)  As for Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, Damon does the better job as a cop who is secretly working for Nicholson.  Wahlberg is on my "Keannu Reeves" list as an actor whose appeal I just don't get, especially in this film, when he looks and acts like a foul-mouthed David Spade.

     Based on the Hong Kong thriller INFERNAL AFFAIRS, THE DEPARTED move along quickly but requires much suspension of disbelief to follow its twisting plotlines about an undercover agent (DeCaprio) in the local Boston mob and a "mole" in the Police Department (Damon) tipping off crime boss Nicholson.  The story only works if you believe both sides to be so unbelievably thick-headed as to be unable to see that the ex-cop who joined the mob and the cop whose orders always seem to end up with the suspects getting away are the obvious candidates for suspicion.

    Still, THE DEPARTED is a better movie than the sum of its parts, thanks to Scorsese's direction, the typically well-chosen rock soundtrack (with The Rolling Stones' classic "Gimme Shelter" as a major motif) and solid performances by DiCaprio and Nicholson.  But as a violent thriller with double agents, chase scenes and gun play, even the James Bond reboot CASINO ROYALE is a better, more plausibly plotted, film. 

    In another year, THE DEPARTED wouldn't have won an Oscar.  In 2006, it may not even have deserved to.  But considering RAGING BULL lost out to ORDINARY PEOPLE and GOODFELLAS lost out to DANCES WITH WOLVES, I have no problem with Scorsese winning best director and THE DEPARTED winning Best Picture.  It's one of those questionable Oscar decisions that I can easily live with. 3 - JB

Martin Scorsese     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


1976: Taxi Driver nominated for Best Picture.  Rocky wins.
1980: Scorsese nominated for Best Director for Raging BullRobert Redford wins for Ordinary People.
1980:  Raging Bull nominated for Best Picture.  Ordinary People wins.
1988: Scorsese nominated for Best Director for The Last Temptation of ChristBarry Levinson wins for Rain Man.
1990:  Goodfellas nominated for Best Picture.  Dances with Wolves wins.
1990: Scorsese nominated for Best Director for GoodfellasKevin Costner wins for Dances with Wolves.
2002:  Scorsese nominated for Best Director for Gangs of New YorkRoman Polanski wins for The Pianist.
2002:  Gangs of New York nominated for Best Picture.  Chicago wins.
2004:  Scorsese nominated as Best Director for The AviatorClint Eastwood wins for Million Dollar Baby.
2004:  The Aviator nominated for Best Picture.  Million Dollar Baby wins.
2006: The Departed wins Best Picture.
2006:  Martin Scorsese wins Best Director for The Departed.
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee