Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My Favourite Film Of All Time - #2 - THE DEPARTED (2006) *****

Cops or Criminals. When you're facing a loaded gun what's the difference?

Having reviewed Jonathan Demme's acclaimed serial-killer thriller SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) yesterday and given major praise for it, that particular film whilst majorly popular with many who I know, nothing will beat my choice for the greatest thriller of all time, from the king of movie violence himself, Martin Scorsese with his recently successful cop film THE DEPARTED (2006). For me, whilst watching it in the cinema with my dad, I knew from the first couple of scenes prior to the opening credits that we were both in for a treat as were Scorsese fans who had grown to love his films over the past 35 years. Controversially however, this IS my favourite film from him and there are several reasons why which would include a quality cast, a brilliant script, some clever editing, a swanky soundtrack, an astonishing twist; the list goes on. Sure others like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and GOODFELLAS (1990), have that in a way, but sadly I wasn't around to watch those films back in the day but admittedly I probably would have loved them as much as The Departed. But this film is on my top 10 of all time, and the rest of the review will unearth the truth as to why I consider it a spectacle in terms of film-making. 

Set in Boston, an opening sequence introduces us to a young boy named Colin Sullivan, who becomes involved with gangster boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who takes Colin under his wing and tries to teach him the importance of choosing the career of a cop or a criminal (as the quote contests). When Colin grows up (now played by Matt Damon), we see him successfully passing a training course to work for the police department's Special Investigations Unit led by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) but he is actually working as an informant for Frank (basically as a rat in the department) to uncover information from his 'colleagues' about their plans to stop the gangster boss's involvement with shipping in drugs. In the meantime though, the department's head people Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (a foul-mouthed Mark Wahlberg) are using rookie cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di-Caprio) to go undercover for them by joining Costello's gang and trying to find out what their plans are too. Billy's incorporation into the gang starts rough but soon he is welcomed by Frank who is assisted by chief henchman Mr French (Ray Winstone) with their involvements in committing various crimes such as murder and assault, which leaves Billy in a tough predicament with trying to not get found out.

Colin on the other hand builds his reputation in the department up well and succeeds in charming police psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) who becomes romatically involved with him and even moves into his new home, though Frank is unhappy about Colin's lack of realization about if she finds out information about him. After Frank and his gang (including Billy) pull off a mass drug deal from under the noses of the police, the pressure gets to Billy whose mind is warped as he tries to see Madolyn about advice for his traumas. After an intial fall out with her, the pair end up having a one night stand, and this complicates things more for Billy as he then tries to meet up with Queenan about pulling out of his informant role, but a tragic accident leaves Billy knowing that he has to try and bring Costello down. Stakes are raised when both the police and the mob realize there's a traitor among them, and that both Billy and Colin are both in danger of losing their cover and even their lives. This can only change if they can find out who is the informant of their respected groups is. This proves to be the pinnacle of the film's climax starting with the police's attempts to confront Frank once and for all but even when the discovery of both men becomes revealed, the case of Billy trying to uncover Colin leads to an amazing and unexpected twist that completely messes with our heads.......

A remake of the popular Asian thriller INTERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), it has a story which is driven so perfectly and well directed by Martin Scorsese. With this film Scorsese uses his skill to show the hard and gritty tough life on the streets as he once did so often as well as his fine attention to detail with amazing plot dynamics. What both of these things culminate into is a well rounded and balanced film with an unlimited focus of cops and gangsters. DiCaprio, increasingly maturing as an actor since becoming Scorsese's muse, fits right in as the streetwise cop, while Damon brings his usual authoritatively and calm approach to the part though his Irish-like accent is a little distilling sometimes. Nicholson, yet again playing another villain, owns every scene he's in with his portrayal of Costello, providing a crazed attraction to his menacing character and in my opinion one of his best performances. Wahlberg produces a fiery but very energetic supporting role and though the swearing can be too inappropriate, it certainly suits such a gritty and thrilling film like this. Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Vera Farmiga all give good support in such a terrific ensemble film that again allows Scorsese to continue working with such aspiring actors. The cinematography is morbid and spot on, capturing the character of its Boston setting while Howard Shore's score is as good as a soundtrack can be, with some quality music that captivates the mood of the film including Dropkick Murphys, Roger Waters and Scorsese's favourite, The Rolling Stones. The film itself is intense, funny, exciting, suspenseful, superbly acted, violent, has great characters, and has one of the most shocking twists you'll ever seen. And there's not a boring moment in it's two and a half hour running time.

Truth be told, Scorsese doesn't reinvent himself with this movie. The violence, the foul-mouthed dialogue and the soundtrack including "Gimme Shelter" - none of that is new territory. Still, it's a fabulous treat to watch the master at work. There's no one who makes a gangster movie like Scorsese. The plot may not seem original but the film gives you a feeling of something new with the intensity of that of a drama and the awe of an action flick. At its core, "The Departed" is a well-crafted, well-written, and well-acted film noir in an age where style usually triumphs over the narrative quality e.g. the rat in the film's last shot. The significance of the memorable quote tells us that no matter who you are or what you've done; when death is staring you in the face, it takes no prisoners. And with this film, Scorsese takes no prisoners with what he has achieved especially with thrilling audiences and giving us a classic of a film, what's the difference eh?


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