Scorsese turns out another American cinema classic

Whenever a Martin Scorsese film debuts in theaters, the American public reacts in one of two ways. Recently, the majority has sheepishly fallen in line with the words of misguided critics who Scorsese’s works as more spectacle than film. While this reaction is understandable given Scorsese’s resumè includes classics like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Casino, it often subverts the essence of Scorcese’s newest work; all critics are happy to slaughter the film’s quality, exaggerating every inadequacy – flaws that would go unnoticed in any other film. For those salivating at the opportunity to do just that, take heart and choose the second so-called “typical” reaction to Scorsese’s films: pop open a bag of Orville Redenbacher, relax, and enjoy a nearly flawless film.

The Departed opens with a title card that reads “Boston: some years ago”. From this point forward, Scorsese ushers the audience into a guttural universe where the line between good and evil is not only blurred, but doesn’t exist. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio star opposite one another as Colin Sullivan and Billy Castigan. Sullivan (Damon) rises quickly from the rank of a state trooper to the slicked suits that head the Special Investigations Unit for the Massachusetts State Police, using his smooth Johnny Hooker charm to snake his way up the hierarchical police ladder. Sullivan’s clean-cut veneer hides the truth: he is a mole for Boston Mafioso Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson.

On the other side of the coin is Billy Castigan, a genuine cop assigned the task of infiltrating Costello’s operation. Aided by family ties to the mafia lords of South Boston in his mission, Castigan struggles to come to terms with his identity in life, while popping pills to numb the pain of not knowing who he really is.

As the film progresses, both characters struggle to maintain their cover and begin to unravel from the stress of maintaining identities opposite their true selves. DiCaprio and Damon give justice to their incredibly complex roles with a burning intensity that climaxes when both men share a silent phone conversation that begins the final act of the film.

The sparkling performance of Damon and DiCaprio are only overshadowed by that of the eternally brilliant Jack Nicholson as Irish mob kingpin Frank Costello. More conniving than Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, more cunning than Pachino’s Michael Corleone, and more intrinsically base than Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth, Nicholoson transcends boundaries, achieving a new plateau of unmercifully sadistic heathenism. Regardless of what he’s doing (a list which includes cocaine, bribery, robbery, and murder), Nicholson abandons his characteristic “Jack” devices, the eyebrow tricks and all but one funny face, to create a lasting vision of evil.

Accompanied by the reliably superb Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga – and a surprisingly good Anthony Anderson – Nicholson, DiCaprio, and Damon enliven William Monahan’s unsparing adaptation of the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs”. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus captures a vibrantly visceral Boston, the golden dome of the statehouse overlooking the rat’s den. As for the master himself, Scorsese spares nothing, summoning his entire cinematic repertoire to construct an unremittingly violent tale of two men unable to trust, and unable to escape.

From the web of corruption that entangles its characters to the latent irony in the Catholic burial rituals, Scorsese’s The Departed provides a resolved vision of a decaying social order. The byproduct is a remarkable film that is undoubtedly one of Scorsese’thedeparted.jpgs best.