“When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals; today what I’m saying to you is this: When facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” – Frank Costello
In 2006 I went to the theater to see a movie I had heard good things about and thought the trailer looked interesting. At this point in my life I knew who certain directors were, I knew some names, Martin Scorsese being one of them, but I didn’t know them anywhere to the extent that I do now. I had seen Scorsese movies before but it was this particular film, The Departed, that truly opened up the possibilities to me about who he was as a director and what film in general had the potential to be. I sat alone in an empty theater in the middle of a random weekday afternoon and for the following two and a half hours I was transfixed.
It was from The Departed that I began to really explore the library of Scorsese seeing films of his I had never seen and movies I had watched but never saw them exactly for what they were. Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets and so many others all stemming from my sudden discovery of The Departed. This is one of many reasons why The Departed is so special to me. Of course there was much to discover outside of Scorsese filmdom and I maintain to this day that it was his filmography that introduced me to the likes of Kubrick, Coppola, Linklater, Fincher and countless more all shaping me into the ridiculous movie junkie that I am today. Having said this now, do I thank Scorese or blame him? Let’s just say the jury is still out on that one and move forward accordingly.
The rawness of the characters was fascinating. Their bluntness was both jarring and a breath of fresh air. They cursed and screamed with a kind of freedom and purpose I had never really experienced before. They insulted as a means of showing unity, they fought bare knuckle in defense of their honor, it was mafia justice in a bare bulb type of portrayal leaving little to the imagination. No tricks, no behind the curtains or under the table dealings easy to miss, The Departed showcases a world of violent, abhorrent behavior shown in an almost comedic fashion. It knows you’ll judge its purpose, its morals if it has any, but in the end as an entity it simply doesn’t care what you think of it. The film itself as much as the characters inhabiting it, revel in the filth of it all embracing that which makes the everyday human shudder in disgust.
In between the moments of violence are characters navigating through a world carried by stereotypes and mistruths. Each ethnicity segregated from one another out of rampant lies all resulting in the violence taking up the rest of their days. They believe things about one another, leading them to believe each is superior to the other when in reality nearly everyone present in this story is a resentful, putrid human being looking for their moment to move up in the world. Even, or rather especially when it requires stepping on someone else to do it. In the world of The Departed that sentence can be metaphorical or quite literal.
At the forefront of such a violent tale is a top notch cast that comes along once in a lifetime. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, and so many other talents lending their skills to a film destined then to become what it is now, a bonafide classic. This was a shedding of DiCaprio’s boyish charm, a return to form for Nicholson, a chance at a nuanced performance for Damon, and a breakout role for the vivacious Vera Farmiga.
This is quintessential Scorsese. It is mafia drama in its rawest, most purest form. With films like The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America the concept of mafia living, while still shown to be extremely violent, shows this kind of living possesses fairytale like qualities. There’s something… romantic about it all. Scorsese’s mob dramas, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, The Departed, and soon The Irishman show this lifestyle through a different kind of lense. A wide lense exposing rather than concealing makes for a kind of tale where morality is left to the viewers. Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street in particular show what these lives of excess and criminality are really like while maintaining an unbiased viewpoint of all the trappings, shortfalls, deceit, and even violence that occurs as a result of zero oversight. It’s like the worst children imaginable being given endless resources and a complete lack of adult supervision. The unbiased viewpoint may show what isn’t kind or attractive about the lifestyle of career criminal enterprises but unbiased means the opposite will be explored as well; the waves of money and women and overwhelming excess also comes with it. It is a heady brew. Tread lightly.
While I think Goodfellas is my favorite Scorsese mob drama, The Departed is special for all the reasons I just stated above. It opened doors, possibilities, and my eyes to a new side of cinema I would soon come to call one of my favorite genres, the crime drama. It showed me what one of my favorite actors, DiCaprio, was really made of as he cursed and thrashed with such convincing fervor.
Dare I say it also solidified my love of Martin Scorsese as a master of cinematic art. I do dare. He glides, cuts abruptly, closes in or pulls back with such command that you can’t help but watch, sometimes literally slack jawed in amazement. The Departed earned Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar, which is insane it took as long as it did, and to this day I remember watching and cheering him on as he raised that little statue in a long dormant but triumphant sense of appreciation from his peers. He was finally being recognized, and rightfully so. Hopefully this year with The Irishman he can repeat history. Here’s to hoping…
Rated R For: strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material
Runtime: 151 minutes
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
After Credits Scene: No
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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