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An eager Jack Nicholson waits in line to
sign Leonardo DiCaprio's cast.

The Departed
Review written by: Alex Sandell

In my 2002 review of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York I wrote, "This is one of the best films of 2002. Big-budget Hollywood just did something right for a change."  Two years later I wrote an even more glowing review for Scorsese's The Aviator, claiming that "You don't watch the best of films; you experience them.  From beginning to end, The Aviator is an experience.  Based on the life of one of the 20th Century's most intriguing men, The Aviator becomes what will inevitably turn out to be one of the 21st Century's most intriguing films." 

Now another 2 years has rolled by and Martin Scorsese is still at his peak and remains on a winning streak.  Some will dispute me on this, but I personally don't think the director's ever been better than he has been on his last 3 films. 

And those screaming "sellout!" over the director's "PG-13" work on The Aviator will be firmly back in the Scorsese camp after watching The Departed.  This is the director's coarsest, fiercest film since 1990's seminal gangster pic, Goodfellas.  And anyone who had worried the director had gone soft in his old-age need not look further than The Departed to know that their worrying was in vain. 

This film is a hard "R."  The violence and vulgar language in the movie easily puts most of Scorsese's cocky young imitators to shame.  My prediction is that by the end of opening weekend The Departed will be considered a classic.  By the time it's released on DVD, professors will be showing it in film school and a whole new bunch of Scorsese wannabes will be born.  The man is in his mid-60s and he's out-directing those a third his age.  He's the dictionary definition of "practice makes perfect" and as we all know, Martin Scorsese was no hack to begin with. 

It helps that Scorsese is no slouch in the casting department.  With Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and, returning for his 3rd Scorsese go-around, Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed easily makes the top ten list for best ensemble cast in a motion picture.  If this film doesn't dominate the "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actor" categories at the Oscars next year, there is no God.  Or, at the very least, God doesn't have a thing for quality acting.

In The Departed nothing is quite what it seems.  The guys that look good may come up as evil and the ones looking bad may turn out to be heroes.  At least that would be the case if the movie were as simple as "heroes and villains," which it isn't (but "Heroes and Villains" is a damn good Beach Boys' song). 

Martin Scorsese must have missed the memo stating that Hollywood movies were being dumbed down for mass audiences.  The Departed is guaranteed to keep audiences on their toes.  Jackass Number Two fans need not apply.  But if they're hankering for something easy to digest, Employee of the Month should be playing just down the hall.  It stars Dane Cook, the least humorous comedian alive, along with Jessica Simpson, the least talented singer currently living.

Hopefully this will also be the movie to shed Leonardo DiCaprio's teen-idol image.  The guy's proven, movie after movie, that he is a serious actor, but the geeks seem unable to forgive him for starring in the movie that knocked Star Wars off of the top box-office spot way back in 1997 (Titanic). 

When I went in for the screening I said I was press and was there to see "the new Martin Scorsese movie."  For some reason I couldn't remember the name of the film.  The chubby guy with the pony-tail laughed and said, "At least you didn't say 'the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie!'"  I asked, "What's wrong with Leonardo DiCaprio?" and he said, "Everything."  I expected him to pull out a Darth Maul Master Replica Lightsaber to strike me down.

I'm sorry "Guy Selling Tickets For Minimum Wage Guy", but Leonardo DiCaprio is second only to Jack Nicholson in this movie.  And, while we're at it, he should have played Anakin Skywalker.  While all the actors put in memorable performances in The Departed, only Jack outdoes Leo -- and it's close.  Very close.  The only problem you have with Leonardo DiCaprio is the girl you had a crush on in 8th Grade thought he was cuter than you.  So get over it, already!  Oh, while I'm at it, your pony-tail sucked.  Buy some conditioner, or something.  "Frizzy" is so 1985!

In The Departed DiCaprio is showing some wrinkles around his eyes.  The teen-sheen has all but disappeared.  His role is a powerful one and when he and Nicholson share scenes together, you can feel the electricity throughout the theater.  These are two expert craftsman, comfortable in what they're doing and willing to take chances, putting all their cards on the table.  It's some of the most impressive acting ever projected onto the silver-screen. 

Then there's Alec Baldwin.  I haven't seen the guy this dynamic since his unforgettable cameo role in Glengarry Glen Ross.  When his character expresses his love for The Patriot Act, the entire theater broke out laughing.  Not at him, but with him.  He let us in on the joke and he knew exactly how to deliver the line.  And it's a line not to be forgotten.  Then again, this is a movie filled with memorable lines.

Matt Damon is Matt Damon, but with edge.  Imagine his performance in Good Will Hunting and then throw in a little Hannibal Lecter for good measure.  One second he sets you at ease and the next he has you feeling as uncomfortable as a naked fat man on a crowded subway (and not that dude from Seinfeld, who actually enjoyed being naked and fat).  It's not easy to play two sides of the coin, but Damon, along with DiCaprio, is asked to do so and pulls it off with perfection.  The acclaim he received for Good Will Hunting was anything but a "fluke."

Mark Wahlberg is given some of the best lines in a movie full of great lines and the guy knows how to deliver them.  Forget that generic football movie he was in last month and let him do his thing.  The guy can definitely act.  Martin Sheen, well -- what more is there to say?  He's Martin Sheen.  All he serves to do is remind us why he's a living legend.

You may notice I'm giving nothing away about the actual story.  That is intentional on my part.  Like The Aviator before it, The Departed is a film to be experienced.  Every surprise should elicit a gasp, not a, "I already read about that on some underpaid critic's website."  Enter this film as a virgin and you'll leave as a whore.  The movie will surprise you.  It will shock you.  It will leave you wanting more, even though you already had far too much.


I'm willing to say that Scorsese hasn't lost the fire.  He still has the spark and he's still more than willing to take chances.  It seems that whenever Hollywood has hit the bottom of the barrel, Scorsese steps in to step up the game, once again. 

The next line in this review is becoming familiar whenever Scorsese releases a new film, but once again the director has created one of the best films of the year.  If not thee best.  This is one that is not to be missed.  This one is an experience.

Agree? Disagree? Considering Hare Krishna? Email Alex!

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What does this rating mean?  Everyone rates things differently.  Your "5" could be my "7," or vice-versa.  Find out what MY rating means by clicking here

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