Before the Oscars, I made myself a goal to see as many of the nominated movies as I could. That eventually changed to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as I could. I still haven't seen The Queen, which is weird because I remember trying to convince people to see it when it first came out and nobody wanted to go with me. But the Saturday of Oscar weekend, I somehow got myself a copy each of Babel and The Departed. Babel I didn't care for that much: it was portions of a number of good movies cobbled together, slowly paced and ultimately unsatisfying, even if it had good moments. The Departed, though, was amazing. After watching it on DVD, I immediately regretted not watching it in the theater. To have seen it larger than life, surrounded by other people, would have been amazing. Still, watching it on my television screen was extremely rewarding as well: while not the best movie Martin Scorsese has ever made (I'd say that'd either be Raging Bull or Goodfellas), it is still very, VERY good.
Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan take a lot of time setting up the story: introducing the characters, revealing motivations and relationships, showing just how the two main characters work their way deep into the worlds they’re only pretending to belong to. It gives the audience a chance to really take it in, and allows the actors to really play off each other and flesh out their characters, something that this movie does just a little bit better than did the original, the teriffic Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs. At two and a half hours, The Departed is less of an action movie and much more a character-driven drama, albeit with quite a lot of violence, something Scorsese does very well.
The actors all bring their best to the table, from the leads to the supporting cast. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon do an outstanding job, making their characters distinct yet similar, and when they finally meet onscreen, the scene is explosive. Jack Nicholson plays yet another crazy villain, but he does it very well and with a lot more depth than I wanted to give him credit for. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are great, and Mark Wahlberg takes a throwaway character and makes the audience take notice (although I would argue that Nicholson or Baldwin deserved the Academy Award nomination more). The lone major female character is in the capable hands of Vera Farmiga, who deftly shows her character’s struggles while staying strong. It was an odd choice to combine Infernal Affairs’s three female characters into this one woman, but it makes for a lot of interesting storytelling and it connects Damon and DiCaprio’s characters without ever having them meet.
The Departed is not without its flaws; both of the main characters seem to move up the ranks with astonishing speed, and Nicholson chews the scenery a bit too much on occasion. Overall, though, it’s a great movie, and one I could watch over and over again. Highly recommended.