Mark Wahlberg had nothing to prove. With acclaimed turns in The Yards, The Italian Job, and Boogie Nights, which still ranks as one of the ballsiest exhibitions of ambition by an up-and-coming actor in the past decade, the former underwear model and recording artist came to The Departed having piled a lot of dirt on the grave of Marky Mark. Yet when you look at The Departed’s marquee and see that honor roll of Oscar nominees and winners (Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, etc.) and then Mark Wahlberg’s name pops up…well, it’s easy to find yourself playing a game of ”Which one of these guys does not belong?”
There’s also something ironic about Wahlberg playing a self-righteous cop who exudes an air of unimpeachable credibility, a role that would seem to require an actor with a slightly more respectable aura. And yet, the 35-year-old Boston native meets the challenge with a performance that is confident, focused, and, most important, relaxed. He acts as if he belongs, and darned if he doesn’t steal almost every scene he’s in, thanks to some of the juiciest (and most unprintable) sewer poetry ever written in tough-guy cinema.
Wahlberg’s Sgt. Dignam is a true supporting role; its function is to illuminate the stars. Wahlberg understands this, and nails it. Because of him, we clearly come to see what’s at stake inside the murky, redemption-starved heart of DiCaprio’s undercover cop. In the final scene, he brings the twisted plot and elusive themes to a snap-shut close — without saying a word. The former rapper more than earns his first Oscar nod. Marky Mark? He’s that other guy, no longer worthy of mentioning in the same breath.