The master storyteller Martin Scorsese returns to his home turf of gangsterology, goons, good guys, violence and bloodshed with his latest offering "The Departed". There is a general grouse that violence in Scorsese films are unmitigated and graphic, which is undeniable. He has set the benchmark for cringe-inducing violence and bloodshed in film (at least until the appearance of a director named Quentin Tarantino). In Scorsese films, violence is used more as a tool to shock and involve the audience, than as an end in itself (unlike in Tarantino films where violence is the means and the end, and the screenplay is more like a pean to violence.) Scorsese is more interested in the criminals themselves- he wants to probe their twisted souls, and dig out some humanity from those deranged landscapes.
"The Departed" is one such character study of the world of organized crime in Boston. (This is a remake of a Hong Kong cop classic “Infernal Affairs”.) Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, is the lord of organized crime in Boston. He makes his prodigy Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrate the state police force, wherein at about the same time, a recent recruit of the state police, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), infiltrates Costello’s gang. This sets up a curiously rigged high-stakes game, where the role of the hunter and the hunted is continuously reversed. The fact that both Sullivan and Costigan have a common love interest doesn’t hurt the complexity factor either.
The film could serve as a text book example of a well executed ensemble piece. Almost every single supporting character (and there are quite a few of them), is fully chalked out and realized, and manned with first rate actors. Mark Wahlberg stands out playing Dingam as a potty-mouthed muscle flexing cop, who intimidates and cows down opponents with his razor sharp wit and abrasiveness. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen pitch in with solid performances. Amongst the lead actors, Nicholson stands out. Investing the role with a sort of glee filled rascality, he achieves the delicate balance of making the audience care for him just enough, without sympathizing with his actions.
The film, in its best parts, propels with a seething energy, ably aided by the legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker. It works most effectively as a crime thriller. The screenplay’s attempts to transcend into greatness are only half-successful; the complex character studies initiated are either cursory or in broad strokes. One area where the film succeeds effortlessly is in combining crime and dark humor; this is one of the funniest crime thrillers you will see.