Martin Scorsese is no stranger to New York’s mean streets. In fact, he’s walked them so many times that he’s probably got shin splints. Perhaps the greatest irony of this most Gothamy of Gotham directors is that it took a four-hour drive up I-95 to recapture the energy and the violent grace that’s been missing from his films for the past decade.
Loosely based on the 2002 Hong Kong action film Infernal Affairs, The Departed takes the ingredients of Scorsese’s best films (loyalty, betrayal, crime, and punishment) and sets them in blue-collar South Boston. There, Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan infiltrates the state police under the guise of a straight-arrow Eliot Ness, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s young cop Billy Costigan becomes a mole in the city’s most ruthless gang. Lording over both like a sexually perverted Vito Corleone is Jack Nicholson as Boston’s most notorious hood. The Departed is a byzantine maze of manipulation, double crosses, and moral convenience. It could have been a confusing jumble. But Scorsese’s urban noir bristles with danger, not to mention career-best performances from Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Vera Farmiga as the woman caught in Damon and DiCaprio’s underworld standoff.
In the end, The Departed is miraculous evidence of a legend finding his second wind, making an uncompromising statement in a Hollywood increasingly unfriendly to such things. ”To me, the big question is how close to a personal film can I make in the Hollywood system today?” says Scorsese. ”This is as close as I can get.”