Jack Nicholson as Costello in The Departed

Scorsese's Whack-a-Jack

With "The Departed" director Martin Scorsese returns to the world of underground crime but instead of solely focusing on the life of a gangster he delivers a clever thriller about double crossing and duplicity. "The Departed" focuses on 2 central characters, Colin Sullivan who having been tutored by crime boss Frank Costello works his way up the ladder of policing to become an insider for him and then there is Billy Costigan who becomes an undercover cop working in Costello's organization. It's a different take on a gangster/crime movie, but still delivering the insight into the world of organized crime as you would expect from Scorsese.

With Irish-American crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson - Something's Gotta Give) running things in South Boston, the police send young undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio - The Aviator) in to Costello's organization to feed back his plans. At the same time Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon - Ocean's Twelve) a young member of Costello's gang infiltrates the state police and works his way up to a position of power in the Special Investigation unit, feeding information back to Costello to help him evade arrest. Each of them men succeed in their missions that is until both Costello and the Police become aware that they have moles in each of their organizations. With the risk of being exposed both Billy and Colin must try to expose each others cover to save themselves.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy in The Departed

As you would expect "The Departed" is both visually impressive but also being a Scorsese crime movie is at times violently brutal. It's full of Scorsese's trademarks, a fearless approach to delivering the reality of violence, the clever camera techniques and an expressive soundtrack which gloriously embellishes the story. But it is also Scorsese's pacing, keeping you glued to an ever unravelling story which commands your attention from start to finish. It's almost relentless as it delivers layer upon layer of narrative, developing atmosphere and tension which rises to a crescendo for the climax.

But as already mentioned "The Departed" is not just a tale of crime bosses and brutality, it's also a story of loyalty and deception from two insiders as things heat up and start to spiral out of control. When it gets to the expected point where Sullivan's and Costigan's covers are close to being blown Scorsese delivers a sublime amount of tension yet never over does it, he keeps you firmly on the edge of your seat wondering who will get found out and ultimately what will happen to them.

As such "The Departed" is also an intriguing study of characters under pressure with both Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio excelling in their roles. Both of them deliver a sense of fear that they never know who they can trust, how close they are to being discovered and a real sense of paranoia which is stunning effective. In the case of DiCaprio, working for a ruthless crime boss, you also get that sense of sickening from having to do work which goes against what you believe in.

Now whilst Damon and DiCaprio excel in their roles there is something that for me is missing, that is a real sense of ruthlessness when it comes to crime boss Costello. Whilst Jack Nicholson is at his sinister best as Costello and Ray Winstone is quite foreboding as his main henchman Mr. French, neither Costigan nor Sullivan displays any fear of him. It has the knock on effect that Costello ends up a dangerous crime boss but one which no one seems to really fear.

Elsewhere Mark Wahlberg is solid as the tough talking, slightly obsessive Staff Sgt. Dignam and Alec Baldwin delivers an effective performance as Cpt. Ellerby as does Martin Sheen as Cpt. Queenan. But for me Vera Farmiga really stands out with an impressive performance as psychiatrist Madolyn who ends up in the middle of things.

What this all boils down to is that "The Departed" is an excellent movie. With the clever storyline, brutal but honest violence and a whole list of Scorsese trademarks it is almost perfect. My only criticism comes from that crime boss Costello just isn't scary enough for me to be convincing as someone who should be feared. But that is a minor gripe in what otherwise is a great movie.