Thursday, October 05, 2006

Review: The Departed

Infernal Affairs, the brilliant Hong Kong movie by Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak on which The Departed was based, is a sleek thriller, with aesthetics typical of the gems photographed by Christopher Doyle. The remake, masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese, is more raw and primal, but in no way is the frenetic energy of the original diminished. Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's story is transplanted practically intact to Boston, home of the Irish-blooded gangsters, where Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello is the big boss. Andy Lau's character is played by Matt Damon, while Tony Leung's is played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jack Nicholson is, as always, sufficiently smarmy and frightfully unpredictable. His is a role that is technically a supporting one that could land nevertheless land him a nomination as lead actor, by virtue of sheer size and gravitas. Nicholson is irresistible as Costello, but there is nothing new to see, and at times he even loses the Boston accent that his character is supposed to have. Despite the importance of his role, Matt Damon isn't given much room to shine, but he makes do with what he is given well enough. It is Leonardo DiCaprio who is given the opportunity to show great range, and he steps up to the challenge astoundingly. This film only serves to convince one that DiCaprio is a truly great actor, who by this time should have already reaped so many more awards than he has. Just like in the original, in which Tony Leung is inarguably the centerpiece, the character of the undercover cop constantly in risk of discovery and death or loss of identity allows its actor much berth for a career performance. A number of critics have hailed DiCaprio's performance here as his best, and it is hard to argue that point. Among the supporting cast, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are absolute scene-stealers, while Martin Sheen and Vera Parmiga contribute fairly good turns in their respective roles.

The Departed has a running time of 149 minutes, but at no point will the viewer feel as if it's taking too long. Such is the power of Scorsese's direction (some cite this as his best work to date, or at least in recent years), the all-star cast, and, of course, the original story (which was rightfully cited). The very minimal departure from the original plot and the slightly forced (and gratuitous) ending sequence are minor factors that barely diminish the overall greatness of the film. Grade: A

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