Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #51
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon
The Departed is a movie that I resisted watching for about the first three-and-a-half years it was out. It wasn't that I thought it would be a bad movie; when it won the Best Picture Oscar, most of that doubt would have been removed anyhow. I just thought it looked like far too much of a standard Marty Scorsese flick, that it would bring nothing to the table I hadn't seen in his earlier work or in the plagiarisms of his earlier work that flood the theaters every year. When I went off to college and a new friend (and dedicated reader of this blog – hi, Max!) told me that The Departed was his favorite movie of all time and that he wouldn't let me escape Bloomington without watching it, I got a little more interested. Once we finally got around to watching it, I instantly regretted avoiding the film for all that time. Unlike Shutter Island, which sees Scorsese venturing into new territory and being only partly successful, The Departed sees him dominating his old stomping grounds with the sort of knowing virtuosity that hasn't been seen since Clint Eastwood revisited the Western genre in 1992's Unforgiven.
So yes, this is definitely a traditional cops-and-criminals movie, but it elevates the genre to its highest form, while most new movies in the style (Like Brooklyn's Finest? That exists, right?) dwell at its stereotypical nadir. Scorsese waltzes through the picture with the deft hand of a master and earns every ounce of the statue he took home for directing it. He gets phenomenal, Boston-accented performances out of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga. Putting that much star power on one screen without it feeling like a parade of movie star cameos (like I'm afraid The Expendables might be) is impressive enough by itself, but to get some of the finest performances of all of those actors' careers is simply otherworldly direction.
Scorsese doesn't turn the genre on its head here, either. He simply makes a film that meets all of its requirements and executes them exceedingly well. The key element in the movie that serves as its driving force is a bastardization of the double agent concept. A boy brought up in the Irish Mafia (Damon) grows up to become a cop, and a disgraced police officer (DiCaprio) gets disturbingly close to a member of the Irish Mafia (Nicholson). Since most of the intrigue stems from here, the quality of the performances is crucial. Needless to say, all three guys totally nail their parts. The story keeps the twists and turns coming, and it's impossible to be anywhere but the edge of your seat when you're watching it all unfold. There's too many good things to say about this movie to cover in a blog post. It's not one of my favorite movies of all time because I'm just not a huge fan of cops-and-criminals movies, especially ones involving the Mafia.
In fact, while we're at it, here's a brief and incomplete list of genres or movie subjects that will automatically prevent a movie from becoming an all-time favorite: cops-and-criminals, the Mafia, boxing, romcoms, stupid comedies, torture porn horror. They're all kind of dealbreakers. Films can be incredibly good within that genre, but they won't challenge my top, let's say, 25 list. Ever. Sorry, I'm very petty.
Anyway, to get back on track: The Departed is about as good as any movie of its ilk could ever aspire to be. Nothing less, nothing more.
The Good: Everyone involved does their job brilliantly.
The Bad: 2.5 hours of Boston accents is enough to make you want to splatter your brains against the wall behind you. Thank God I live in the Midwest. And if anyone is reading this in Boston...I'm sorry, but still, learn to talk normal.
The Skinny: I'm okay with #51. Hell, if I made a list of my favorite movies of all time that extended that far, it would probably be right around #51.