Review: The Departed (2006)

Scorcese’s The Wire: South Boston Nights

I don’t know where this sits in the canon of Martin Scorsese films (at least by consensus), and I don’t know if this is considered one of his best, but it’s one of my faves. I find The Departed an easier watch than, say, Taxi Diver or A Bronx Tale – maybe because characters in those films descend into moralising so claustrophobically that they leave little breathing room for the viewer to reflect – and right up there with Goodfellas and Casino, though for very different, less showy reasons.

The Departed is Scorsese’s The Wire: South Boston Nights. The duality within the forces at play in both the police and in organised crime is explored through two knights at opposite ends of the chess board: Matt Damon‘s corrupt internal affairs investigator, and Leonardo DiCaprio‘s deep undercover cop, are products of the city and the system – and Jack Nicholson‘s murderous criminal kingpin is the endgame. It’s a riveting, nail-biting exploration of that duality, through both the performances and the film-making.

This sausage-fest of a large (white) ensemble could’ve included more than a single (white) female…

The Departed marks only the second (I think?) in the clearly creatively fruitful Scorcese / DiCaprio partnership (Gangs of New York before this, Shutter Island  and Wolf of Wall Street after), and it’s wonderful to see the colours shown here in DiCaprio’s frantic, twitchy portrayal of the understandably strung-out Billy. But really, everyone here shows something unusual and alive, and each character presents his own duality: a charismatic-but-impotent Matt Damon, an hilarious and overstressed Alec Baldwin, a foul-mouthed-but-surprisingly-well-read Mark Wahlberg… Jack Nicholson kinda pulls me out of the story a little, but he’s as terrifying as his character is supposed to be. With such a large cast of multi-faceted characters, this sausage-fest of a (white) ensemble could’ve included more than a single (white) female (Vera Farmiga), but… well, actually, I won’t “but then” that statement, coz really.

From a structure and editing perspective, The Departed is also a master class in cross-cutting between stories. What’s impressive isn’t that the film juggles multiple, intersecting narratives, but how it juggles: bringing one arc to its boiling point, then switching over to the next to raise the heat a little there, before switching to another to stir the pot a little more, then back again – all while not only never losing sight, but palpably exploring its themes. It’s a technique the wonderful Every Frame A Painting explains by… well, doing: