Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak’s 2003 Hong Kong Classic ‘Infernal Affairs’ is one of my all-time favorite movies, throwing a unique twist on the cop / gangster genre.  An action picture that has the nerve to have a brain, yet still have plenty of action and have enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  So imagine my dismay when I hear the shills out in Hollywood are going to remake this modern day masterpiece.  Why oh why can’t we think of their own original ideal in this great nation of ours.  There are damn near 300 million people in this country so surely somebody has an idea for a movie that doesn’t involve an Asian remake, TV show send up, sequel, or thinly veiled rehash.

Okay, so my concerns alleviate slightly when we we’re told that Martin Scorcese will direct this little remake, and then it filters down that Jack Nicholson will headline a stellar cast that also includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin.  But still…

So now that I’ve seen ‘The Departed’ the chances are that this movie is not only good, but probably great.  No doubt Martin Scorcese’s best film since ‘Goodfellas’.  The reason I can’t give in to the probable greatness of this film is simply because I’ve seen it all before.  I would advise anyone wishing to see this film to completely avoid ‘Infernal Affairs’ as ‘The Departed’ deviates very little from the original story which is a good thing.  Sort of.  It’s just that a lot of the really cool surprising stuff in ‘The Departed’ won’t be quite as cool or nearly as surprising to anyone who’s seen ‘Infernal Affairs’.

Anyway, Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, an Irish kid in a tough neighborhood taken under the wing of local mobster Frank Costello (Nicholson).  Still working for Frank, the now adult Sullivan enters the police academy and quickly distinguishes himself as a top cop and shoots up the law enforcement ladder.  Around the same time, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is also graduating from the academy, and though his record his spotless, his name, due to his families mob ties is tarnished.  This is not lost on Division head Captain Queenan (Sheen) and Sgt. Dingam (A very well played and profane Mark Wahlberg) who are able to convince Costigan to essentially toss away his police career, go to prison for a while and then come out under deep cover with the sole intent on infiltrating, and ultimately destroying, Costello’s organization.

What then plays out is an incredibly tense game of cat and mouse as both the cops and the mob knows they each have a mole somewhere inside their organizations and both are desperate to flush them out.  This movie is damn near flawless.  Jack Nicholson is well, Jack Nicholson.  Only on crack.  DiCaprio’s plays Costigan spot on as a man who has been undercover too deep and can only get through the days with the help of copious amounts of Vicadin.  Matt Damon is summarily slimy and charming as the rat assigned by the police to flush himself out and then there’s post leading man Alec Baldwin who raises the quality of any project he’s involved in.

Scorcese keeps the pace brisk and the tension high, and there enough twist and turns to surprise even the most discriminating film watcher.  At least if you haven’t seen ‘Infernal Affairs’.  It’s difficult to heap praise upon ‘The Departed’ without referencing in some way ‘Infernal Affairs’ since the story arcs are nearly identical.  There are some slight changes, such as addition of the Mark Wahlberg character (for only one reason, as ‘Infernal Affairs’ viewers will surely notice) and also a fairly major adjustment in the relationship between Costigan and Sullivan’s Police psychiatrist girlfriend Madolyn (Vera Farmiga).  But none of this can derail what I think is a virtual masterpiece for Martin Scorcese, and a long time coming at that, with such lackluster fare as ‘The Gangs of New York’ ‘Bringing out the Dead’ and ‘Kundun’.  I actually kind of liked ‘The Aviator’.

Make no mistake, this movie is very, very good.  Again, it may be great, but I would need someone who hasn’t seen or heard of ‘Infernal Affairs’ to let me know whether or not ‘The Departed’ deserves such praise.  Regardless, it is good to see a well made, well acted, well directed and incredibly violent movie for grown ups.  Even if it’s not the freshest idea around.  300 million ya’ll.  Somebody must have a new idea.

Real Time Web