Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” is an overwhelming film experience.
It begins with the seductive baritone of Jack Nicholson’s voice and it ends in a bloodbath that rivals Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in sheer number of bodies.
In between these two events is a masterful depiction of cops, mobsters, loyalty, betrayal and identity.
As a young boy, Colin Sullivan encounters mobster Frank Costello (Nicholson). Sullivan, like just about everyone in South Boston, views Costello with a mix of fear and admiration, and these feelings persist on into adulthood as Sullivan becomes Costello’s right hand man.
Later, Sullivan (Matt Damon) becomes a cop in the Massachusetts State Police Department, but only so that he can act as a mole for Costello.
Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) also trains as a cop for the Massachusetts P.D., but, because of his less-than-reputable past, he is forced to go undercover for the cops as a mole in Costello’s organization.
Thus we have the initial premise that drives the rest of “The Departed”: Two young men, on the opposite sides of the law, forced into living lives of deception.
Though “The Departed” is somewhat lengthy at two hours and thirty minutes, director Martin Scorsese paces the film at a headlong clip that does not relent until the credits roll.
The film’s performances, which are as dynamic and absorbing as the story itself, are another reason why “The Departed” is able to, at its best, make you forget that you are sitting in a movie theater.
DiCaprio, who just seems to get better and better, is riveting as Costigan, a man with a temper like that of a starved wolverine.
Nicholson is also at his fiendish best. He plays Costello as a man who gets what he wants, be it money, cocaine or loyalty from his men.
Sullivan is perhaps the most tragic and complex character in the film.
Damon plays Sullivan as an eager-to-please pathological liar, who nonetheless longs to sever the bond that connects him with Costello, and start anew. His inability to do this is at the heart of the film.
“The Departed” might sound heavy-handed, and it certainly is no lightweight. But it is also filled with the gallows humor that so often underscores Scorsese’s films, and these moments of vulgar levity make the film more entertaining and more bearable.
In the end, what makes “The Departed” such a compelling film is its unflinching look at the corrosive effects that deception has on a man’s soul.
Scorsese has created another masterpiece. This is an uncompromising, dynamic, bloody Shakespearean gangster film, and one of the best pictures of the year.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.