The Departed Martin Scorsese

With one of his most powerhouse casts, some brilliant performances and a fascinating take on a Hong Kong classic, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is one of the most entertaining — and most viciously R-rated — films in the stalwart director’s impressive career.

Scorsese transposes Wai Keung Lau’s 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs to Boston, where Irish-American mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) rules with a wildly flailing fist. Under his watchful eye are two prodigies — Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a cop whose loyalties still lie with the mob, while Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is, on the surface, a disgraced cop who becomes a mole within Costello’s organisation. Throughout the film, both Sullivan and Costigan become increasingly aware of the other’s presence — that there’s a "mole” out to destroy the organisation they hold dear from within — but remain clueless about the identity of the rat.

Boss man Costello knows from rats — Nicholson bares his teeth in an over-the-top impression, one of the few moments he lets his very Jack-ness get away from him — but his hubris won’t allow him to see the metaphorical rat in front of his eyes. He controls Damon’s rise in the police ranks through some carefully planned moves, but it’s Leo’s Costigan who proves to be a slippery fish.

On top of three powerhouse performances — one of Nicholson’s most delightfully entertaining, one of Damon’s coldest and most chilling, and DiCaprio’s strongest, most wounded and tightly wound — Scorsese has assembled a remarkable supporting cast who wouldn’t be within ten miles of a small role without the master at the helm. Martin Sheen does some good, earnest work as the police captain seeking to bring down Costello, while Mark Wahlberg scorches as a vicious "Southie” cop whose vitriol helps police adjust to the undercover world.

This return to the gangster world’s seedy underbelly has imbued Scorsese with a remarkable ease and confidence — the film moves quickly through some intricate plot machinations, introducing characters and getting to the heart of its issues with a thrilling economy. Even the soundtrack — the opening chords of "Gimme Shelter,” for instance — is a throwback to his past (he used the song to equally great effect in both GoodFellas and Casino). At least on first viewing, there seemed to be few eye-catching camera tricks or notable set pieces; instead, everything serves to move the narrative forward. It’s with this confident hand that Scorsese manages to keep a lid on Nicholson and help DiCaprio (now on his third Scorsese ride) give a career-best performance, one that surely won’t be ignored come Academy Award time.

Of course, Scorsese himself has his own legacy with Oscar, one that will certainly provide much fodder in the lead-up to awards season. But as The Departed clearly demonstrates, he needs no such outside affirmation to know just how to take audiences on a ride. (Warner)