Every bit as powerful and good a film as Gangs of New York and the Aviator.
I've not seen any of the Infernal Affairs films.
A note on spoilers. I will discuss who is good cop and bad cop, I won't reveal major plot points or resolutions, the film makes it very clear within the first few minutes who is who, but I was unsure as to who was good or bad based on the trailers. I will discuss how I see the characters and their development throughout the film, some of the description might be considered spoilers as it indicates general directions of the plot.
Overall, Brutally funny, more on the script later.
I nominate this film for the best fuckin' soundtrack of the year. From Patsy Cline to the Stones, John Lennon, Pink Floyd and opera; sonically this film is outstanding. Never quite as good a musical moment as the famous fight in Mean Streets but "Comfortably Numb" is ALMOST there... just interrupted a teensy bit by dialogue and awkward blocking.
The Departed spins a story centered around Boston crime lord/mafia chieftain Frank Costello. Costello has been a father figure to Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) since he was a boy being raised by his grandmother. At the start of the film we find Damon breezily being placed as a mole for Costello into the special unit of the Boston State Police who are continually hunting the elusive Costello. Nicholson tears up the screen as Costello, his role is full of energy and life, and could very well be in competition for a supporting actor nomination--simply because it's Nicholson.
Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a boy from a split home who was raised on both sides of the Boston tracks. his family is all dead, but most of his extended family are criminals. He applies to the same special division of the Boston State Police that Colin Sullivan did, but with his spotty record and disposition only one route is left open to him if he wants to be a cop--deep cover as a mole with Costello.
The rest of the film unfolds brilliantly. The story development had me on the edge of my seat from moment to moment. Often I was thinking, "what next," or "how will they get out of this (or be busted)". But that tension may be the film's one downfall; The Departed feels a little long; some of the plot seems repetitive or tat least looping upon itself. But this is Scorsese and I can already feel--as I think back on the film--how that repetition is one of the film's shining, brilliant aspects. The repetition layers and deepens the character of Costigan and Sullivan in contrast to each other.
The film is very catholic in its approach to all three characters, but it is Costigin who draws us in with the trials and tribulations he undergoes. Is he trying to achieve redemption or atonement by serving the police and undergoing these trials? He seems ignorant of his family's past in some key scenes. Scorsese delivers us a kind of tortured hero's journey for Costigan. We're not told enough to really discern his quest, his purposes, instead Scorsese keys in on two other aspects of the journey--isolation and pain (trials). And the audience attaches itself firmly to Costigan because of this. This is where Scorsese really powerfully exploits the repetition in the narrative. Costigan is forced through a lot, physical, mental and spiritual (metaphorically, what he believes in is tested the most), we're left wondering just how far a man can be pushed and still remember what is right.
I think this is Leonardo DiCaprio's finest performance, it's a brutal, demanding role. And yes, it is a showy role, he has a lot of juicy scenes to display his chops, but it is not as showy as Nicholas made the Costello role. Damon is superb as Colin Sullivan. It'd be easy to dismiss his performance, but this is a character that learned to wall off emotion and vulnerability long ago. One of the film's nicest contrast shows Costigan's walls breaking down as Sullivan's strengthen while both worm their way deeper into positions of trust. Sullivan is so stoic; Damon is guaranteed to be overlooked for any awards consideration. It is a nuanced performance and one of the film's greatest strengths. And it enhances DiCaprio's awards portential, his performance will contrast both with Nicholson's scene chewing and Damon's scene-deferment. He'll generate buzz and talk.
But what was my favorite performance? Mark Wahlberg. He lights the screen up with dialogue and fuck-you-ness the way Joe Pesci did for Goodfellas, it's a shame his character is so small.
The script by William Monahan is brilliant. This is one of the funniest films I've seen since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. there's brutal, snappy humor in every other scene--and it really works for the film. The humor is stronger than After Hours.
This is a film that makes me realize Italians are all moody, volatile bitches and the real fun is to be had by hanging with the Irish.
The humor is what makes the film click and connect--it's what verbally ties the two separate stories together, and that makes the themes and connections between the men really ascend to the next level.
Michael Ballhaus' cinematography is outstanding. Gorgeous throughout with many visual nods to John Ford (made me think of the Informer and The Long Voyage Home).
Thelma Shoonmaker's editing ties together the two separate threads so seamlessly it blows my mind how smooth the whole experience was. There's one hitch, in the editing, and that's where Comfortably Numb stops working for a spell. I think it's how the scene was shot and blocked, it's the only part of the movie that doesn't work.
Howard Shore's score is good. Kristi Zea's Production design is outstanding and the Makeup team did a stellar job, and may well be in the oscar hunt as well if WB plays their cards correctly.
So why rate this three and a half? Because it's terrific to write about the film afterwards but the film never yanked me up to the highest level Scorsese can achieve, at least, not on a first viewing. And that's in many ways because I was so anxious to find out how it all resolves that I was constantly thinking of it as a story and not caught up 100% in the story. In many ways the storytelling was so good that I was too tense to fully enjoy it. A second viewing and I'll be more relaxed and I think I'll enjoy the film even more, Unlike many action films, this film will really reward repeat viewings. It's not Goodfellas, it's a whole different animal . It's not a crime epic it's an action/police film. And it's a brutal comedy and a damned effective piece of storytelling. It is a crowd pleaser. The audience had a blast with the film and gave it a spat of thunderous applause at the end credits.
And the end credits are on cards rather than scrolling. Nice.