Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, a brutal and exhausting American remake of the Hong Kong crime drama Infernal Affairs (2002), uses pitch-perfect rock music cues and unnerving, relentless violence to create a hypnotic tone and speed all it’s own. Set in Boston, the story follows the rise of two moles, one (DiCaprio) a cop infiltrating the mob, the other (Damon) a worm for the mob (led by the maniacal Jack Nicholson) infiltrating the Special Investigations Unit of the MA State Police. As each ascends, they work to uncover the other’s identity, creating endless problems for all involved. There’s also a love interest thrown in the middle, a psychiatrist (Verma Farmiga) who’s involved in one way or another with both Damon and DiCaprio’s characters.
The story has plenty of holes, but you can’t keep your eyes off the screen due to the dynamic performances by the leads, especially Damon, whose ambition and weak morality sit side by side with the ultimate themes of the film. The final image speaks volumes about his character’s need to succeed, no matter how much institutional deception and needless death stare him in the face. The Departed seems to be playing by it’s own rules, defying traditional narrative and editing techniques that make the experience exhilarating and frustrating.
Scorsese owes much of the success of this film to his life-long editor Thelma Schoonmaker, whose rhythm and finesse enable a sometimes overcomplicated story to remain based in character and consequence. The film shifts into a higher gear with each scene, the story finally morphing into something that transcends genre. Scorsese and his cast and crew have created a template/critique of American power, revealing the hidden impotency behind the aggression and weakness that makes these characters deceive and destroy. The Departed stands as an unsettling and conflicted masterpiece, a bloodletting of corruption and ambition that paints the town red more than once, but never without rhyme or reason.