In the closing scene of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed a rat crawls across a window ledge. This is a rather overt but appropriate piece of symbolism. Since, for the most part, The Departed is a movie about rats. No, not the furry little rodents your grandma used to set traps out for, the other kind of rat, that being the Henry Hill and Donnie Brasco variety of vermin that we’ve all become so familiar with in the past few decades due to movies such as this one.
The movie begins with the tale of two youths, William Costigan (Dicaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Damon), who both grow up within the mob controlled confines of south Boston. During his formulative years, Sullivan is mentored by a ruthless mob boss known as Frank Costello (Nicholson) who has a vice grip on the Boston underworld…
We don’t learn much about Costigan’s upbringing besides the bits mentioned in dialogue later on that tell us he was raised by his father who lived outside of the city, so he would spend the weekends on the street pretending to be a tough city kid while spending the rest of his time away from the world of inner city Boston with his dad. His uncle ‘Jackie’ was apparently a made man with quite a reputation which will help him out greatly in the future.
Both of the boys grow up and become cops. Sullivan goes through the academy and gets a high ranking job in the State Detective Agency, while Costigan applies to regular patrol duty, but is declined in a classic interrogation scene by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen…) and his partner Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg).
These are the two men whose job it is to take down Costello and all his cohorts, and given Costigan’s history and family ties, they foresee a much more useful purpose for him rather than being simply another traffic cop handing out parking tickets. So the deal is then set in stone, Costigan will go undercover and infiltrate Costello’s mob operation, while Sullivan will serve as Costello’s own double agent within the police force itself.
Along the way Sullivan meets and falls in love with lovely police shrink Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) who in turn later sees Costigan both professionally and personally herself in a love triangle situation that is surprisingly effective, even though an obvious plot contrivance.
Eventually both organizations suspect that there are rodents crawling about in the works, and set about to sniff them out. How that occurs takes up the majority of the time in The Departed and involves many tense, moving, and pulse pounding scenes on both sides of the criminal coin. By the time it all ended I was not just satisfied with my movie experience, but flat blown away. Scorsese has indeed done it again. The Departed works well as a slick crime picture, a spy film, a cop movie, two love stories, and two separate father son bonding tales.
To call the acting solid would be an enormous understatement. Both of the main stars bring extraordinary depth to their characters and the love triangle holds up so well that I found myself going back and forth on who I wanted to see ultimately ‘get the girl’. In the end though the show is stolen by that crafty old pro, Jack Nicholson, who on sheer force of personality alone creates by far the most interesting character in the film in Frank Costello.
Also worth making a note of here are strong performances by Mark Wahlberg who will play a surprising role in resolving the entire situation that I will not spoil. Then there is Martin Sheen who brings a nice contrasting fatherly presence to offset Nicholson, to both Damon and Dicaprio. Ray Winstone, who is a veteran character actor, plays Mr. French: the number two guy in Costello’s criminal empire who in the end carves out a memorable character for himself. And finally Alec Baldwin plays a cop who is identical to every cop any Baldwin brother has ever played, which works well here as well.
So with all that said, if you’ve not already seen this movie, I truly pity you. If you are a fan of any of the involved people here, run, don’t walk out to the video store and purchase this film for posterity’s sake and watch it as many times as humanly possible in order to soak up all of its truly awe inspiring performances and the expected top notch direction from the master himself, Mr. Scorsese.
As far as where I’d rank this among some of his other infamous ‘Mob Films’ I’d say it’s in a dead heat with Casino, and slightly above Goodfellas. Although admittedly I’m probably one of the few people in the world that prefers Casino to Goodfellas, (as I find the story slightly more interesting…) but that’s another review for another time.
The Departed gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.