When Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) was a boy, he got to know local Boston gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who thought he could be useful to him in later life. As it was, when Sullivan graduated from the Massachusetts Police Academy Costello was there to congratulate him, because while Sullivan moved up the ranks and became part of an elite unit he was still an informer to the gang boss. Meanwhile, another graduate, William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), would turn informer as well, only for the good guys as he went undercover. Costigan would spend time in jail to give him a convincing background in crime, and was assigned to Costello's outfit. Little did these two cops know that they were pitted against each other - but they'd find out one way or another...
In 2006, two notable American movies were caught up in the problems facing undercover policemen and the blurring of the lines between whichever side they were supposedly on. One was A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's identity confusion science fiction and didn't win any Oscars; the other was the no less paranoid The Departed and walked away with four Academy Awards, including the Best Picture one and the long overdue first for veteran director Martin Scorsese. This was a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs which had been a big hit in its homeland and the potential was there for an American set version, staying faithful to the original's twists and turns: the result was one of the few remakes to do justice to its source material.
That's not to say it's Scorsese's finest achievement, although his style is there in abundance, but he managed to sustain a complex plot and keep its ambiguities in place without leaving us too bewildered over nearly two and a half hours. In addition to being packed with incident the film is packed with recognisable actors (actresses, well, not so much) all of whom look delighted to be working with a cinematic maestro and unwilling to let him down with a lacklustre performance. This means the cast are consistently on top form, from the department's hardnosed investigators like Mark Wahlberg's sweary agent, one of only two people to know Costigan's status, to ruthless hoodlum Ray Winstone, the unfriendly right hand man to Costello. Nicholson is allowed free reign for his eccentricities all the while, but he's not too distracting.
There are of course complications, as if it weren't complicated enough as it was, as Costigan is seeing a police psychiatrist played by Vera Farmiga, who happens to be Madolyn, Sullivan's fiancée. And what do you know, a love triangle develops, made interesting in that the two men in the equation aren't aware of each other. This increases their rivalry, as Sullivan is doing his best to flush out Costigan to tell Costello, and Costigan is desperately trying to figure out who among the cops is crooked. There are a few good suspense sequences, such as where Sullivan's cover is almost blown when Costigan follows him after a meeting with his underworld boss and both are nearly caught by the other, and the silent phone call scene. Speaking of which, have mobile phones harmed or enhanced films? Horror film writers could well see them as a handicap, but here screenwriter William Monahan relies on them almost to the neglect of all other devices, to the extent that it's a nice change to see people talking face to face here. The Departed is easy to admire, but finally oddly unmoving and feels paradoxically small scale considering its epic ambitions. Music by Howard Shore.
American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.
However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.
In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.
Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal AffairsThe Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.
This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.