Saturday, January 28, 2017

Decade of Best Pictures: THE DEPARTED

Welcome back to the first DECADE OF BEST PICTURES series of reviews where we will be taking a look at a decade of Best Picture winners over the course of 10 days. In this series we will be looking at the decade of Best Pictures from 2005-2015 in reverse chronological order! This tenth entry will be for the 2006 Best Picture winner THE DEPARTED!

The Departed is the winner of Best Picture in 2006 and is directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The film is, to date, his only to win the honor. It is a re-telling of the Hong Kong police drama Infernal Affairs but set and styled in Boston (a departure from Scorsese’s usual New York backdrop). The film tells the parallel stories of two guys who become police officers and work for and against an enigmatic Irish gangster in Southie. The film has a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga.

Overall I think The Departed is a truly excellent crime-drama. It is a tightly woven story that shows unique parallels between seemingly dissonant characters that moves creatively from place to place. The film also captures Boston extremely well and manages to maintain a level of intrigue with respect to its setting. The performances are also spectacular. Finally, Scorsese’s filmmaking in this is on point throughout the film.

I think the strength of both The Departed and Infernal Affairs is the writing and the underlying premise. Having these two characters with different backgrounds going through this story and circling each other as, though both are working with and around the same people, neither knows who the other is a fascinating and deeply engaging story. You’re constantly on edge because of the writing which was brilliantly adapted by William Monahan from the original by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. Everything that happens plays into the total narrative and moves the plot forward through many interesting twists. Truly, not a moment is wasted in this picture.

On top of the tightness of the writing, it also has a genuineness to its setting. It feels very “Boston.” It certainly plays off of local social politics quite a bit but it also has a feel and culture of the city. Nothing in this felt generic which was cool to see and the fact that Scorsese never wavered (despite Boston not being his usual muse) from the setting was impressive and made the film all the more engrossing for me. It helped that Monahan, in the adaptation, based Nicholson’s character much more off of the infamous Whitey Bulger which added a real-world feel to this fictional story.

Being honest, however, neither the writing or the setting would work if the performances weren’t pitch perfect throughout. Thankfully, they are. Jack Nicholson was phenomenal. Leonardo DiCaprio was great and really coming into his own. Matt Damon played this character to absolute perfection. Mark Wahlberg delivered possibly the best performance of his career to date. Alec Baldwin was highly enjoyable. Martin Sheen added the kind of gravitas required to make the film believable. Everyone worked and the way the ensemble worked together is what really made the film excellent.

The final great thing about this is the filmmaking. Scorsese, though not my favorite director, is a master filmmaker. Each shot in this film is perfectly executed and fascinating and it kept a movement and pace that thrust the audience deeply into the film. Every frame is superb and Scorsese uses a lot of pristine tracking shots in here that were great. He also manages to maintain a certain lightness despite the intense drama going on around which makes this a joy to watch.

I only have two issues with this film. I thought that some of the love triangle stuff going on between DiCaprio, Farmiga, and Damon was awkward and didn’t add much. Further, I thought some of the stuff in the climactic conflict felt a bit hokey given the film as a whole. That’s it though. Otherwise, the film is entirely on point.

The Departed is an absolutely superb film and a deserving film for Scorsese to finally get his much deserved Oscar. This film is tightly woven, well set, well cast, and brilliantly well made. What more can you ask for?

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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