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‘The Departed’ (4K UHD Blu-ray review)

Warner Bros.

When I was first offered 2006’s The Departed for review, I was surprised that it was a Martin Scorsese movie with which I was totally unfamiliar.

A lesser work, no doubt, or so I assumed.

Turns out it won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and was nominated for several others. It has been ranked amongst the greatest gangster films of all time and, in at least two polls, the greatest films of all time in general.

I swear to you this film did not even exist before last week! This is the very definition of The Mandela Effect!

Since it exists now, though, I watched it…and on some levels I was impressed. Others, not so much.

The Departed is based on a trilogy of Hong Kong crime films called Infernal Affairs. I haven’t seen those, either, but I have now watched the trailers and Scorsese seems to have translated the visuals almost exactly in some scenes. The Departed depends very much on those visuals, too, utilizing light and dark very specifically for effect.

Before we go any further, here’s the mandatory SPOILER WARNING.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, The Departed works on several layers but its basic story is of two young men who are opposite sides of the same coin. One is a good guy who pretends to be a bad guy while the other is a bad guy pretending to be a good guy. Both are under deep cover. The former is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter by Matt Damon. I must confess that at times I have had trouble telling those two actors apart and seeing them together in the same film really didn’t help. Their vague resemblance may well have been the reason for their casting.

Both of their fates revolve around Jack Nicholson’s character, a Boston mob boss inspired by the real-life Whitey Bulger. Nicholson has never been a favorite of mine and here he is clearly enjoying himself, chewing the scenery with a wild look in his eyes and perpetual bedhead. I didn’t enjoy him nearly as much as he enjoyed himself.

A stoic Martin Sheen (in a role intended for De Niro) and tough guy Mark Wahlberg head up an elite police office determined to catch Nicholson. They arrange for DiCaprio to go to prison and then get recruited into the gang, not knowing that Nicholson has been grooming Damon since childhood (He gives the kid a Wolverine comic book) to attend the police academy and yet work for him.

Both sides then try to uncover the mole in the other side. None of them know that the reason Nicholson never gets caught is that he’s secretly an FBI informant. Throw in the female police psychiatrist that both Damon and DiCaprio begin sleeping with and there’s your plot. Oh, Alec Baldwin’s in there somewhere, too, complete with a fake Boston accent.

The Departed is bleak and over-long but well-acted by two of the best of the modern actors. Cinematography is great but I have to take issue with the award-nominated editing by the director’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker. There are a number of quick flashbacks that aren’t really signaled to be such. More than once, I only came to that realization after the fact. Also, a number of things happen off-camera that we only hear about later—stolen microprocessors sold to the Chinese turn out to be fake, an important envelope given to the psychiatrist to only be opened in the event of DiCaprio’s death is never again seen, heard of, nor opened.

And where does DiCaprio find the “boxes” of incriminating tapes he mentions? And what happens to them? The psychiatrist has heard one. Why doesn’t she turn Damon in instead of letting him look like the hero?

While we’re asking questions, where was Sheen’s character when DiCaprio kept getting told he was “out?” What happened to Wahlberg’s character after his sudden dismissal? How does HE know that Damon was behind everything by the end? And who is paying the electric bill at 344 Washington, clearly a long-abandoned, falling apart building and yet with a working elevator that figures largely into the plot?

I was going to add, “And what does the title mean, “The Departed?” but I assume it ultimately refers to the fact that just about every main character is dead by the end of the picture.

Extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

I’m afraid I’m not seeing what so many others obviously see in The Departed.

To me, as entertaining as it is on many levels, including a great soundtrack of classic songs, it’s far from the director’s best, saved mainly by the top-notch cast, especially DiCaprio and Damon…or is that Damon and DiCaprio?

Booksteve recommends.





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