“The Departed” is Martin Scorsese’s faithful remake of the excellent Chinese film Infernal Affairs. The premise of the film is such; a vicious boss in Boston’s Irish Mob (Jack Nicholson) sends his criminal protg (Matt Damon) to infiltrate the Massachusetts State Police detectives charged with bringing him to justice, while simultaneously, a promising young cadet (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover to bring down the mob boss. Both organizations slowly realize they have a mole in their midst and charge their own mole with smoking out the other. As the organizations clean house and the stakes are raised, Damon and DiCaprio find themselves in an increasing personal struggle to eliminate the other without allowing their identities to be discovered. The result is an incredibly tense film, which succeeds in creating an almost claustrophobic atmosphere of paranoia.
The acting in the film is top notch, with DiCaprio delivering the best performance as an increasingly distrustful, violent and broken man who wants nothing more than to get his life back. Damon’s role is solid, though his portrayal of a character who needs to be competent but unobtrusive to stay alive is sometimes drowned out by the more bombastic and aggressive actors in the film. Nicholson does well in the film, although he doesn’t fit into his role so much as his role fits into him. Believable as a bloodthirsty mob boss, you can’t forget you’re watching Nicholson.
Where the film really shines, though, is in its excellent supporting cast. Mark Wahlberg manages to steal every scene he’s in with his fantastic portrayal of a police detective who deals with everyone with almost absurd levels of verbal abuse. Martin Sheen does very well as a fatherly police captain, and Alec Baldwin is good as a hotheaded team leader. Special note should be made of Ray Winstone, whose understated performance as Nicholson’s top enforcer is an excellent counterpoint to the much louder personalities he finds himself alongside.
Some minor problems detract from the film, like the subplot about Nicholson selling missile guidance systems to the Chinese, which felt contrived and out of place, or the final elevator shootout, which initially delivers the desired impact, only to move too quickly and come off as a little silly. It should also be noted that people who are turned off by very offensive language or extreme violence will likely find less enjoyment in this film.
Finally, a brief word should be said on how “The Departed” stacks up against its progenitor. It offers a much more interesting supporting cast than the original, as well as stronger acting overall. It does not offer as nuanced portrayals of the leads, especially for Damon’s character, who was much deeper and more interesting in Infernal Affairs. “The Departed” also has a much more Hollywood ending, which could be better or worse depending on how you like your movies.
All in all, this is probably one of the best films you’ll see all year.