Benjamin’s Stash

It only took him close to 40 years. Academy Award nominees Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin and Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson star in Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

The DepartedCast of Characters:
Billy Costigan, Jr. – Leonardo DiCaprio
Staff Sgt. Colin Sullivan – Matt Damon
Frank Costello – Jack Nicholson
Staff Sgt. Sean Dignam – Mark Wahlberg
Capt. Oliver Charles Queenan – Martin Sheen
Arnold “Frenchy” French – Ray Winstone
Dr. Madolyn Madden – Vera Farmiga
Capt. George Ellerby – Alec Baldwin

Director – Martin Scorsese
Screenplay – William Monahan
Based on characters created by Alan Mak and Felix Chong
Producer – Brad Pitt, Brad Grey & Graham King
Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material

In the Irish neighborhood of South Boston, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is introduced to organized crime as a boy by Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Costello trains him in becoming a mole inside the Massachusetts State Police, and after impressing his boss, Capt. George Ellerby (Alec Baldwin), Sullivan is accepted in the Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on organized crime.

Meanwhile, before graduating the police academy, Billy Costigan, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) is recruited by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his partner Staff Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to go undercover. Considering his family ties to the mob, Costigan would make a perfect infiltrator. Accepting Queenan’s offer, Costigan drops out of the academy and does time in prison on a fake assault charge to increase his credibility. Once out, he develops a relationship with Costello, while a game of cat and mouse between Costigan and Sullivan begins.

For a man that has captivated moviegoers for decades, it’s astonishing that it took nearly 3-4 decades for Martin Scorsese to finally take home the gold for Best Director. Prior to The Departed, his two closest chances were 1980’s Raging Bull (lost to Robert Redford for Ordinary People) and Goodfellas (lost to Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves), with heavy contention also for Taxi Driver, Gangs of New York and The Aviator.

Now, you could make the argument that this was a “let’s give him his due” award (everyone and their brother knew he was gonna win it when they brought out Spielberg and Coppola – two Best Director winners themselves – to present the award). However, let’s not kid ourselves. The Departed may not be Scorsese’s best film, but it was still the best film of 2006 and earned its accolades without the help of Marty’s illustrious overall career.

There’s a reason Scorsese’s at the top for me as best director (tied with Spielberg). He doesn’t have the additional writing resume of a Tarantino or the Coen brothers, but he’s still the master at constructing a narrative that grips you from start to finish. His eye for detail and location, the way he cuts his films (with longtime film editor Thelma Schoonmaker) are immaculate, and no one can pace the tension as perfectly as he can. It should be no surprise as to what drew him to remake the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs. The story focuses on family, guilt and betrayal – three elements that are smacked all over his prior films. Yet this isn’t a retread of the 2002 original or of other crime thrillers he’s directed before. The Departed – returning Scorsese to his gangster film roots dating back to Mean Streets – despite being a remake, feels fresh and stands on its own.
The greatness of this film lies in its characters. Be it Travis Bickle, Jack LaMotta, Henry Hill, Amsterdam Vallon or Howard Hughes, Scorsese loves dealing with central characters filled with conflict. He gets two here in Billy Costigan and Colin Sullivan, superbly performed by Leonardo DiCaprio (who can play conflicted better than anyone today) and Matt Damon, respectively. By this time, DiCaprio was already Scorsese’s muse (much like De Niro in the ’70s-’90s), but this was Damon’s first film with the director. Both Costigan and Sullivan struggle with the daily lie they are living – Costigan the informant rat within the mob and Sullivan the mole infiltrator within the police force. Complicating matters for them is Madolyn, Vera Farmiga in a fantastic supporting role that first introduced me to her, Sullivan’s boyfriend and Costigan’s psychiatrist. Ironically, despite never telling Madolyn the truth, both men seem to feel the most at home when with her.
One of the most memorable moments involves Costigan on the job with Costello’s right hand man Frenchy. After Frenchy shoots someone down in cold blood like it’s nothing, Costigan stands there quiet, frozen in shock at the way someone could murder someone and act so nonchalantly about it. In just those few seconds, DiCaprio captures his vulnerability and fear perfectly, as one finally realizing just how deep he’s in with this program.
In one of his best performances, Jack Nicholson delivers his usual Nicholson-esque schtick as mobster Frank Costello. From his opening monologue we get more than a hint that we’re in store for plenty of eyebrow-arching theatrics once he finally reveals himself. It may be those same scene-stealing theatrics we’ve seen from Jack before, but this isn’t the type of villainous performance we’ve seen from him before like in The Shining, The Witches of Eastwick, or Batman. Costello may ham it up and joke around at times, but then we get moments where his true colors come out to play and shows how menacing he can be, such as when he’s trying to sniff out a rat in a conversation with DiCaprio. Either way, Costello is king when it comes to his territory and everyone around him knows better than to question that.
I’ve already mentioned 4 pitch-perfect performances and I haven’t even scratched the surface with this standout cast. We also get Mark Wahlberg in a “bad cop” role that best utilizes his trademark cocky, tough guy demeanor. Maybe it’s Dignam’s way of telling Costigan that if he thinks he’s a dick, he’s about to get it tenfold in the world he’s preparing to dive headfirst into. I’d also be lying if I said there isn’t a scene a little over halfway through the film where I wanted him to punch Damon’s brown noser in the face (you’ll know it when you see it). Martin Sheen is great as Wahlberg’s “good cop” counterpart, and easily the only character that can sleep well at night. Originally Robert De Niro was wanted for the part, but – not to take anything away from De Niro’s talent – Sheen brings an understated calming presence, almost like a father figure too, as the only man Costigan feels he can trust.  Alec Baldwin chews his scenery as the tough-talking Captain that’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring down Costello, and the always entertaining Ray Winstone is excellently cast as Costello’s confidant.
All that said regarding the cast, this is still Scorsese’s film. Many of his signatures from the shockingly brutal violence, the Roman Catholic imagery, and the 50 millionth use of The Rolling Stones’s “Gimme Shelter” are evident throughout the film. Like his best films before, The Departed gets more and more engaging as another detail and layer of the story unfolds. We already know who the rat and mole are here, but it’s us knowing what the characters don’t that makes it so exciting. Scorsese can turn up the intensity without a single word spoken just as effectively as if someone’s shouting up a storm. That’s best shown during a cell phone call between DiCaprio and Damon. You’re waiting for one to start talking, but neither say a word, and oddly enough, nothing needs to be said ’cause the quiet between them does all the talking for them.
To be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered if Scorsese won Best Director for The Departed or not, ’cause he already cemented his status as master of his craft long before this film came around. It’s like Jon Elway winning back to back Superbowls to finish off his career. His hall of fame career was already decided; the Superbowl wins were just the cherry to top it off. Scorsese’s direction, William Monahan’s (a Commonwealth native himself) terrific script and a stellar all-star cast come together to make one of the best and most thrilling gangster films of the past 25 years. Will I go as far as to say it belongs up there next to Goodfellas? Yep.

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