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The Departed (2006) - 5.98

Martin Scorsese makes a welcomed return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) with The Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film since Casino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim, The Departed is also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying that The Departed is a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costigan's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and Sullivan conduct a volatile search for each other (they're essentially looking for "themselves") while simultaneously wooing the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) assigned to treat their crime-driven anxieties.

Such convenient coincidences might sink a lesser film, but The Departed is so electrifying that you barely notice the plot-holes. And while Nicholson's profane swagger is too much "Jack" and not enough "Costello," he's still a joy to watch, especially in a film that's additionally energised by memorable (and frequently hilarious) supporting roles for Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and a host of other big-name performers. The Departed also makes clever and plot-dependent use of mobile phones, to the extent that it couldn't exist without them. Powered by Scorsese's trademark use of well-chosen soundtrack songs (from vintage rock to Puccini's operas), The Departed may not be perfect, but it's one helluva ride for moviegoers, proving popular enough to become the biggest box-office hit of Scorsese's commercially rocky career. --Jeff Shannon

Customer reviews (av rating: 4.0):

Rating: 1:
Awful! : We really hated this film. Having read all the glowing reviews and taking into account the great cast, we had high expectations. After listening to half an hour of repetitive expletives, and a story that seemed to be running down a very familiar route, we gave up. It may have improved towards the end, but we couldn't be bothered to stick with it long enough to find out. There so many good films in this genre, this one was a real waste of time.

Rating: 4:
Very Watchable Mob Movie : I'm not normaly into crime / mob thrillers but did enjoy The Departed , although that was more down to the great cast than the story . Good to Ray Winston get a part alongside Hollywood's top dogs too !

Rating: 5:
departed ad infinitum... : good cast, apart from ray winston's american accent, with high tension almost through out. jack nicholson was at his best, with one scene when he actually says very little where his facial & body language are so powerful. brilliant. probably too much violence than the average 'normal' human needs in an entire lifetime, but hay ho thats scorsese for you. i thoroughly recommend this one for the non-sheepish.

Rating: 4:
Wicked good : I am an American of Irish descent and I grew up in Boston. Whenever a movie is set in Boston, I simply cannot enjoy it if the accents are off -- it ruins the whole experience for me. Those of us who know the regional accents can be very harsh when sizing up those actors who attempt the local patois. Wahlberg and Damon are from Massachusetts, so they get a bye. Leo DiCaprio does an okay job; I understand that Wahlberg told him he'd be laughed off the screen if he didn't manage an appropriate accent. Jack Nicholson, though, is terrible! He kind of drifts in and out of his accent. There is also no way I bought him as an Irish organized crime boss. They are way more menacing and scary. He just looked like he was ready for a retirement home.
Despite Nicholson's performance, though, I really enjoyed the movie. It is worth watching for the interplay between Wahlberg and Damon alone -- I got the feeling that Mark has always wanted to pop Matt and he gets to do it big-time here. Unlike some people, I loved the ending. It's all about retribution . . .
In any case, I subtracted one star for Nicholson, but overall I think Scorcese did a "wicked good" job.

Rating: 4:
A REMAKE OF INFERNAL AFFAIRS : In Martin Scorcese's "The Departed," Leonardo Di Caprio and Matt Damon play dueling "moles" working at cross purposes on opposite sides of the law. Di Caprio is Billy Costigan, a rookie recruited by the Massachusetts State Police to go undercover to infiltrate the gang headed by Irish mafia boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Damon is Colin Sullivan, a seemingly straight-laced detective who, in reality, is a "rat" planted by Costello in the heart of the investigative unit, whose job it is to tip the mob boss off when the cops are getting just a little too close to his unsavory operations.

The film, a remake of the Hong Kong flick "Infernal Affairs," finds Scorcese back in the familiar territory of tough-talking ethnic gangsters (although for once the Italians are let off the hook) and urban violence. In terms of box office receipts and year's-end awards ceremonies, the return trip has certainly paid off handsomely for the director. Yet, for all the accolades it has garnered, "The Departed" falls short of the "Goodfellas" glory of a decade and a half ago for reasons that are not always easy to pinpoint or fathom.

On the positive side, Scorcese, never one to stint on his performers, has gathered a powerhouse cast for the occasion. In addition to Di Caprio and Damon, who provide some of the most solid and subtle work of their careers thus far, the movie boasts Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg in stellar supporting roles. Nicholson does yet another variation of the sardonic, scenery-chewing bad guy he's done countless times before, but since nobody does that shtick better than he, we don't mind watching it yet another time.

The greatest strength of the film lies in the complexity of the storyline, as the parallel cat-and-mouse scenarios continually twist and turn and ultimately dovetail into each other as the movie builds to its frenzied conclusion. There's a near-balletic beauty to much of the plotting as Costigan and Sullivan both struggle with the paranoia and fear that come from having to conceal their true identities from their colleagues at work and the love interest they unknowingly share on the side. One must credit Siu Fai Mak, who wrote the original screenplay - here skillfully adapted by William Monahan - for much of the film's success.

Yet, despite its many virtues of script and performance, there seems to be something oddly lacking in "The Departed" - a kind of unity and focus that turned "Goodfellas" into an instant classic of the gangster film genre. The deliberately clipped editing, which results in abrupt, awkward transitions between individual scenes, gives the film a self-consciously hurdy-gurdy quality that seems more artifice than art. The dialogue is often more mannered than it needs to be, and Scorcese has done surprisingly little to make the Boston locale an integral part of the drama (think back to how Sydney Lumet's managed that feat in "The Verdict"). The story is interesting, in and of itself, but we never find ourselves very deeply engaged in the fate of the characters, which is the last charge one could ever level against "Goodfellas." Moreover, even the violence in "The Departed" is handled much less effectively than it was in "Goodfellas." In the earlier movie, the violence - and even the threat of violence - was cringe-inducing, unsettling and disturbing, with the Joe Pesci character, in particular, keeping the audience in a state of dreaded anticipation throughout, but in "The Departed," the blows land with very little impact, and the violence is really not much different from what one might find in any decently executed, garden variety action film.

Perhaps it's unfair to keep making these constant comparisons to "Goodfellas," a standard that, let's face it, very few directors would ever be able to live up to even on their best day of film-making. It's just that Scorcese set the bar so high, for himself as well as for others, with that film that his own failure to reach it inevitably seeps into our evaluation of his current product.

A good film but not a great one.

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