It's been 10 years since Martin Scorsese made a must-see movie. Sure, there have been interesting projects since, but even though 1996's 'Casino' relied too heavily on the energy and style of 'Goodfellas', it was the last Scorsese film that justified you queuing on opening night. Now, after two epic historical films, 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator, Scorsese has returned to the crime genre with 'The Departed', a study of good and evil set within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish underworld of South Boston.
Based on the Hong Kong film 'Infernal Affairs', 'The Departed' turns the good cop/bad cop storyline inside out. Colin Sullivan (Damon) and Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) join the Massachusetts State Police but follow very different career paths on graduation. Having grown up with South Boston's crime overlord Frank Costello (Nicholson) as his surrogate father, Sullivan rises up the career ladder - all the time working as Costello's mole within the State Police. Costigan, meanwhile, is from a crime-associated family, but is now sent undercover into Costello's organisation to bring him down. With the police searching for the leak and Costello hunting for the snitch, it's only a matter of time before Sullivan and Costigan's worlds collide.
The first thing that must be stressed is that 'The Departed' is not 'Goodfellas'. It's not as memorable and you won't be quoting from it 16 years down the line. But in a very poor year for thrillers and crime movies, 'The Departed' is the most satisfying one you'll see this side of 2007.
With a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, 'The Departed' allows Scorsese to work on a big canvas, but feels more like a conventional studio movie than many of his previous works. The difference is that few studio movies these days manage to suck you into their plot quite like this one. The story is intense from the off and, if anything, Scorsese could've taken it over the three-hour mark without a chorus of seat shuffling.
Once again Scorsese explores the lust for power and violence which form part of male identity and 'The Departed' has more than its share of grisly and shocking scenes. The brutality often comes when you least expect it; you don't foresee the deaths of characters and with every twist you're submerged ever deeper into the world of two men living minute-to-minute.
Of the two, it is DiCaprio who gives by far the more powerful performance as the undercover Costigan, a man whose desire to do the right thing - and stay alive - finds him crossing so many lines that he's close to breaking point. Damon's story as the dirty Sullivan is neither as compelling or as well developed and lacks the sheer psychological wallop of DiCaprio's. As for Nicholson, well, while there'll be some accusations of too much munching on scenes, his portrayal of the vile Costello results in a screen villain whose only recent competition has been Ben Kingsley in 'Sexy Beast'.
Sections of 'The Departed' feel too fast-moving and sometimes the relationships between the characters needed more time, but chances are these are things that will only occur to you afterwards. While you're watching you'll come to realise that Scorsese has clawed back some of the police drama ground that has been lost to 'The Shield', 'The Wire' and many other TV shows and given those who were let down so badly by 'The Black Dahlia' and 'Miami Vice' something to really enjoy.
Will he win the Best Director Oscar for it? He's made pictures where he deserved it far more, but directors have also taken home the golden statue for far less entertaining films than this.