***1/2(out of four)
After a long, disappointing summer movie season, serious movie fans are probably hoping for a few films that can restore their faith. It remains to be seen whether that can be accomplished in the next two or three months, but “The Departed” is certainly a step in the right direction.
The last time we saw the film’s director, Martin Scorsese, he was working with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2004’s “The Aviator,” in which the actor played the legendary Howard Hughes. In 2002, he had one of the starring roles in Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.” In “The Departed,” DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a young man with a shady past who is groomed by the Boston Police Department to infiltrate the mob.
Like many auteur directors, Scorsese likes to use the same actors again and again. Of course, the most well-known repeated collaboration was with Robert DeNiro, who starred in multiple Scorsese movies such as “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “New York, New York,” “Raging Bull,” “The King of Comedy,” “Goodfellas,” and “Casino.”
So is Scorsese grooming DiCaprio to be his new DeNiro? It would certainly appear so. Of course, the actor has more than his fair share of detractors, mostly stemming from backlash to “Titanic” after that 1997 film won 12 Oscars and became the top grossing movie of all time. In fact, one of my coworkers despises him so much that he refers to him as “DiCraprio” every chance he gets. You wouldn’t think the subject would even come up in conversation that often.
Despite my repeated attempts to defend my position that DiCaprio is not the worst actor in history, I have been unsuccessful in arguing my point. “The Departed,” won’t likely win over any Leo haters, but rest assured: DiCaprio represents himself well and gets the complexity of Costigan right. Even though the movie has cops and mobsters, there are no pure characters. Costigan is deeply disturbed. If he weren’t, the Boston PD wouldn’t have offered him the job after rejecting him as a regular officer.
Matt Damon plays Collin Sullivan, who is Costigan’s counterpart. He has been brought up by mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) to be a mole for the mob, working as a Boston police officer. Damon plays the character with a cold smoothness that is both likeable and distancing. Like Costigan, he is also a complex character, at times not sure where his loyalties lie. It’s a credit to Scorsese’s direction that neither Costigan nor Sullivan dominate the film.
That duty definitely goes to Nicholson. Make no mistake: he owns the movie. Here’s an actor whose legend has only increased with age, and this role will most likely get his 13th Oscar nomination this year. From the moment he steps into the frame, Costello oozes menace – and an equal amount of charisma. He’s electric and you can’t take your eyes off him.
The film also features some terrific supporting performances from actors playing Boston police. Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg all add plenty of zip to a movie you wouldn’t think would even need it. Wahlberg is particularly hilarious as the most competitive jerk you would never want to work with.
The movie sometimes gets bogged down when the plot twists pile up and the audience may get a bit confused about who’s double-crossing whom and when. Perhaps, though, that’s just part of the fun. “The Departed” works great as a thriller, but it’s ultimately a very dark and violent comedy, especially when Nicholson is onscreen. It may surprise you just how many laugh-out-loud funny lines there are.
“The Departed” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian)