For some movies, you wonder if a review is even needed. After all, with a cast like Alec Baldwin, Oscar nominated Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar winner Matt Damon and three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson, a movie could consist of them sitting around playing pinochle and people would still go to see it. Not to mention that said film is also directed by Martin Scorsese, who could make a movie about a gang of hobo clowns an Oscar contender.
Well, actually, he kind of has. “The Departed” takes place in present-day Boston, the home of a prolific mob led by Frank Costello (Nicholson, “About Schmidt”). Colin Sullivan (Damon) is an old friend of Costello’s who enters Boston State police training so he can eventually become a cop and leak information to Costello. Meanwhile, the newest member of Costello’s mob, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is himself a former criminal sent undercover by the same state police. To complicate things further, Sullivan is appointed to that very Special Investigation Unit working to bring down Costello.
“The Departed” is exactly what one would expect from Scorsese – classily stylized, ultra-violent, filled with riveting performances and impeccable filmmaking. The movie’s depiction of police and criminal life has enough action to be original, yet it’s realistic enough that you tell you’re not watching some over-glamorized Hollywood version of real life. Nicholson – perfectly cast as a slightly insane crime boss – adds further grit to the movie with his tough demeanor. DiCaprio is also convincing as the rough-kid-with-a-heart-of-gold character commonly found in Scorsese’s movies.
Fans of Scorsese’s will enjoy this film, but they may ultimately find something missing. The film is a fast-paced, entertaining two-and-a-half hours, and an intricately plotted essay on the power of deception. But what ultimately keeps “The Departed” from a spot on the top shelf of Scorsese’s work is its lack of truly great performances and compelling characters. DiCaprio has become a solid leading man, thanks mostly to his work in past Scorsese movies, but DeNiro he is not. He fails to make the audience simultaneously hate and feel for his character in the same way DeNiro did in classic Scorsese films like “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.”
Diehard Scorsese fans – although they may be disappointed in how this stacks up to his other movies – will nevertheless love the disc’s special features. A documentary on Whitey Bulger, the inspiration for Nicholson’s Frank Costello character, takes an intimate look of the true-life tale and its parallels to the movie, and two documentaries on Scorsese’s life (of course narrated by himself) that together run almost as long as the actual movie will pique the interest of fans who want to know more about the life of one of Hollywood’s great directors. But the same fans who enjoy these features will have to acknowledge that Scorsese has made better and more compelling movies.
Film: 3.5 out of five stars
Special Features: Three out of five stars