The Departed: A tale of two moles

BASED ON 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, The Departed is about a policeman going undercover as a mob member, while simultaneously, a mob member infiltrates the police force.

Martin Scorsese returns to his trademark style of violence, blood and extreme plot lines with this feature. Set in ethnically fraught Boston, Colin Sullivan (Damon) is a clean-cut rising star in the Boston Police Department’s Special Investigative Unit, which is determined to bring down the kingpin of the Irish-American mob, Frank Costello (Nicholson). Little do they know that Sullivan is in fact Costello’s man, groomed since childhood to infiltrate the police force.

Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), who grew up trying to escape from his working-class, criminal background, is now up to his neck in mob activities, working as Costello’s trusted associate. What only two people in the world know is that he’s actually a policeman, planted to tip the police to his boss’s every move. Desperately unhappy to be forced into the identity he tries to escape, Costigan slowly becomes emotionally unravelled.

The plot thickens as both Sullivan and Costigan become consumed by their double lives, torn between allegiances to both sides. As secrets start to leak out in the police force and the mob, both sides become aware that a mole is within their midst, the search begins.

The plot reaches insanely complex levels as both moles realise that they have both been put on the case to uncover themselves. Both sides play games to try and smoke out their respective moles before their own mole is identified and killed. Complicating matters further, both men fall for the same woman, the psychotherapist Madeleine (Farmiga), who doesn’t know either’s secret.

The Departed is Scorsese’s most purely enjoyable movie in years, although it’s not for the faint hearted. It’s rude, bleak, deceitful and far from politically correct. Bullets and blood punctuate every key scene. The cult director has dropped his bid for industry respectability and Oscar credentials, seen in recent efforts such as The Aviator, and gone back to what he’s best at.

Finding the star performance among this heavyweight line up of actors is tough. DiCaprio has the leading role and shows the most mature performance of his career, expressing his inner turmoil as he slips back into corruption. Damon is also clever and fast-talking as the undercover mob member, while Mark Wahlberg plays a hot headed police sergeant, who adds credibility to the far fetched situations that materialise.

All of them are given a master class in acting by Nicholson’s mob boss antics. In addition to this, there are parts for Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin, as well as the sole female cast member, Vera Farmiga, who does a great job with a restricted part. On top of all this, Brad Pitt co-produced the film. It’s no great shock then that the film’s budget totalled 90 million dollars.

Don’t let the violence, the complex plot or the fact that it’s two-and-a-half hours long put you off. The Departed is an engrossing and entertaining gangster drama widely regarded as one of the best films of 2006.

RATING: * * * *

*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding