Another film from the back end of the 1001 Films guilt list. I’m not sure what I make of Martin Scorsese as a director. As a visual storyteller, the man is one of the masters. His trademark visual style, smooth shots and quick editing (courtesy of his “only works for Scorsese” editor, Thelma Schoonmaker) are amazing. A story that could take four hours to tell whips past in 2 ½, with barely a chance to breathe.
But it’s not just all camerawork and editing – the performance he elicits from his stars are nothing less than full intensity – no matter who is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off them.
But then, by the same token, the man seems drawn to telling stories of brutal, violent people. I can only ask: Why? I’m not sure. His gangster characters in Goodfellas and Casino are some of the most vicious characters ever brought to screen. Don’t even get me started on boxer, Jake LaMotta, from Raging Bull – a horrible, violent, wife-bashing man. Why all these types of characters? (In his favour, it should be mentioned that Scorsese also occasionally makes other types of stories as well. The respectfully Buddhist style of Kundun, about the Dalai Lama, for instance, or The Aviator, the most blatantly pro-capitalist film released in the last few years.)
Which brings us to The Departed, probably his best film in recent years, a complex and gripping suspense thriller set amongst the Irish-American gangsters of Boston, Massachusetts. It tells the story of two young men who join the police force at the same time – Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), sent to join the police by gangster, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), to be a “mole” in the police force, informing Costello of what is going on; and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who joins the police force to escape his sordid family tress only to be promptly sent back out by the police force to infiltrate Costello’s gang as a criminal and inform them what is going on.
The suspense of this film is in watching how quickly things start spinning out of control and how close both Sullivan and Costigan come to being caught by their respective employers – and once Sullivan discovers that a mole exists in Costello’s gang and Costigan discovers that there’s a mole in the police force, the tension really ratchets up.
You certainly won’t be bored, but Scorsese is continually pushing the language and violence boundaries of this type of film, so I would warn away those easily offended. The way all the loose ends are tied up felt very Asian to me, which is no surprise, considering that the film is a remake of Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, which I have still yet to see. I don’t want to give too much away, but it possibly doesn’t end the way you expect it to.
In the end, I love the craftsmanship of this story and the acting is top-notch (especially Leonardo DiCaprio, who steals the show as the tortured Costigan – who joined the police to escape his past and now finds himself in the thick of the criminal word – committing acts he never hoped to have to do). But I’m not sure this is the type of story I could watch over and over again.
4 out of 5.