The Departed: 2-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone
"The Departed" adapted from the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs" by screenwriter William Monahan, is a messy, indulgent, violent, and profane tale of organized crime. Most of the preceding adjectives would be bad things if the film were directed by anybody other than Martin Scorsese.
"How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" - Hamlet (killing Polonious)
The central plot of the film involves a complex two-way cat and mouse game between Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), an undercover cop who infiltrates the inner circle of prominent Boston gang lord Frank Costello (Nicholson), and Colin Sullivan (Damon), a fast-rising Massachusetts State Police officer who is a mole for Costello's organization. Each gradually becomes aware of the existence of the other with tension steadily rising as they attempt to preserve their cover while identifying their opposite number in police and criminal organizations that are becoming increasingly paranoid due to the leaks they are creating.
While gangster films are certainly nothing new for Scorsese, "The Departed" takes a novel approach in that it focuses on both the law enforcement and criminal organizations, with charismatic characters on both sides. Having an undercover "rat" in each organization takes the elements of undercover cop dramas we have seen before in American films such as "Bullets or Ballots" and "Donnie Brasco" and Hong Kong films such as "City on Fire" and "Hard Boiled", and adds an element of "spy vs. spy" espionage to the mix.
The plot is a bit overstuffed with some threads that go nowhere, particularly in the film's second half, which is much less tightly constructed than the opening scenes that introduce the characters and set up the conflict. Additionally, certain scenes seem to run on a bit too long. That being said, the overall effect is still a kinetic, fast-paced, and suspenseful film. The film walks a fine line in that the audience always knows things that the main characters do not, creating a sustained atmosphere of suspense that carries through the implausible and drawn-out sections of the film, and yet the audience does not know everything, creating an empathy with the undercover agents as they get in further and further over their heads and are forced to improvise.
The script is filled with amusing dialog, with each scene seemingly tweaked for maximum entertainment. Even the scenes which do not seem necessary are never dull. In that sense, it sometimes plays like a Howard Hawks film with mile a minute profanity. As was the case with many Scorsese films before it, the pervasive blunt language somehow works to ground a film that would otherwise play as broad opera. The characters are well drawn, creating an authentic-feeling Boston underworld environment.
Another virtue that helps carry the film through some of its rougher patches is its uniformly excellent ensemble cast. From top to bottom, the film is filled with great performances. While indulgence of actors, especially Nicholson who is in his full-on charismatic devil mode, undoubtedly led to some of the overlong scenes, they are all so compulsively watchable, that you can understand why it happened. DiCaprio conveys his character's inner turmoil through subtle facial expressions and body language, but not in a way that would be noticeable to his criminal cohorts. Damon draws his character as charming enough that you could see how he would be a fast riser in the state police who somehow avoids scrutiny of things like his ritzy Beacon Hill apartment with a stereo system that would cost as much as all of the real estate in Rhode Island.
The skill of the performers also helps to smooth out some of the rougher plot edges. Vera Fermiga is so good as a psychologist who becomes romantically involved with both Costigan and Sullivan, and her chemistry with both Damon and DiCaprio is so solid, that you barely mind the wildly coincidental plot contrivance. Mark Wahlberg initially seems too young for the part he is playing, but he makes you forget that before his first scene is over. Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin play a gangster and a cop who are high up in their respective organizations. They both manage to make you believe that they are competent while still not quite able to figure out what is going on with their underlings.
The film employs a variety of photographic looks which are generally captured very well by the transfer. At times it seems a bit soft compared to other contemporary films, but I have not seen a theatrical or high-definition presentation with which to place it in context so I will assume it is intentional until I learn otherwise. Natural film grain is present, particularly (and intentionally) during the prologue. The bitrate is high throughout the two and a half hour running time, and compression artifacts are minimal. Black levels are very deep with excellent shadow detail. I noticed some halos around high contrast edges, but only in 2-3 scenes throughout the whole film.
The sound is presented in a 448kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The mix is strongly focused on the front three channels with the rears used primarily for light ambience. It is nonetheless a very detailed and dynamic mix that serves the film well. French and Spanish 448kbps DD5.1 dubs are also available.
The only extras on the first disc are theatrical trailers. When the disc is inserted, you are presented with (skippable!) promotional trailers for current and upcoming theatrical ("The Painted Veil", "The Reaping", and "The 300") and video ("Blood Diamond") releases. All are presented letterboxed, but not enhanced for 16:9 televisions, with 2.0 audio. From the disc's menu, you can access the theatrical trailer for "The Departed", which is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with 2.0 audio.
The bulk of the special edition's extras are presented as a series of featurettes on the second disc. All are presented in 4:3 video, although much of the content of the featurettes is letterboxed widescreen. Audio is an English DD2.0 track with available French subtitles.
First up is "Stranger Than Fiction: The True Story of Whitey Bulger, Southie and the Departed". This 21 minute featurette focuses on some of the real South Boston gangsters who were used as inspiration for the "Frank Costello" character in the movie. It includes interviews with Scorsese, Monahan, and various authorities on contemporary Boston organized crime, including police officers, reporters, and former mobsters. In addition to providing details of the true story of mobsters James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, it includes discussion of how the filmmakers incorporated elements of their story and other specific Boston detail into the framework of the "Infernal Affairs" adaptation.
Next is "Scorsese on Scorsese", a feature length documentary made by Richard Schickel for Turner Classic Movies in 2004. It runs 85-1/2 minutes and consists of an extended interview with Martin Scorsese. It begins with a discussion of his childhood, and progresses through a chronological assessment of many of his best-regarded films. Films covered in detail include "Who's That Knocking at My Door", "Mean Streets", "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "The King of Comedy", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Goodfellas", "Cape Fear", "The Age of Innocence", "Kundun", "Gangs of New York", and "The Aviator". When discussing his parents, footage is also shown from his documentary "Italian American". Extensive, film clips are used, all uncensored and in their original aspect ratios, in addition to the talking head interview footage where Scorsese discusses the films and occasional personal details of his life that informed them.
"Crossing Criminal Cultures", running 24 minutes, is another featurette that focuses on the director. It covers how Scorsese's childhood, his cinematic influences, and his personal preferences and beliefs have informed his crime films such as "Mean Streets", "Goodfellas", "Casino", "Gangs of New York". and "The Departed". It overlaps with some of the discussion of these same topics from "Scorsese on Scorsese", but expands on them greatly, with numerous clips from some of Scorsese's favorite gangster films as well as his own. Talking head interviewees include Scorsese, DiCaprio, critic Kenneth Turan, forensic psychologist Dr. Louis Schlesinger, and many of the Boston criminal experts from the "Whitey Bulger" featurette.
The last featurette is called "Additional Scenes with Introductions by Director Martin Scorsese". It runs a little over 19 minutes, and its title is self explanatory. It is presented as a single featurette with no chapter stops for the 10 deleted scenes. Each has an introduction by Scorsese explaining how it came to be trimmed from the picture as well as what he likes about it enough to include it as a deleted scene on the DVD (e.g. the look of Boston in the shot, a piece of dialog, a character beat, etc.). The Scorsese introductions are sometimes longer than the actual scenes, and are also framed at 2.35:1.
The 2-disc special edition comes packaged in a standard hard Amaray-style case with a hinged tray on the interior. The case is inside a carboard slipcase which reproduces identical cover graphics to that of the hard case.
"The Departed" had me at "Scorsese" and "crime", and the special edition has some nice extras, focused primarily on the director. The film, particularly in its later acts, is not as tightly constructed as Scorsese's best in the genre, but that is no reason to stay away from this well-acted, suspenseful, and operatic crime thriller.