The main problem with The Departed is that it fails to play the role of a third in a trilogy about Leonardo DiCaprio and historical narratives. No, not really, but there’s some truth to it. Scorsese’s last two films, Gangs of NY and The Aviator both have DiCaprio and are historical, and they are much more ambitious in scope than pretty much every film released in the past four years. They were met with mixed views, but I think they are great, and proof Scorsese is one of the most exciting and intelligent filmmakers working today. The Departed, whereas being a very solid movie, is a return to a simpler and familiar mode of filmmaking for Scorsese.
And therein lies the problem, it’s been there, done that. It adds nothing new to Scorsese’s legacy, as Aviator and Gangs certainly did. There is not even a tinge of experimentation with structure or editing, it’s all by-the-book, as if it’s a second-rate pastiche of Scorsese. Even the soundtrack replays Goodfellas, with the superb cut “Gimme Shelter”, yet again. When put against Scorsese’s body of work, I don’t think The Departed stands out at all. Even if and Aviator and Gangs were not met with the same acclaim as Departed, they are big, sprawling, and ambitious examples of what makes him such a special filmmaker. The Departed didn’t need to have been done by Scorsese: if it was the work of any other filmmaker, I’d consider it exceptional. However, it holds up extremely well against the best movies of 2006, easily securing a spot in my top five.
One cannot attempt to comment this movie without mentioning Jack Nicholson. This is a collaboration so logic and natural, I wonder why it didn’t happen sooner. Nicholson is the heart and moving force of the film, much like Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of NY. You can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen, and you feel this man can do anything and get away with it, both in the story and in the eyes of the audience. DiCaprio has improved a great deal since he began working with Scorsese, and whereas the role of Billy Costigan is nowhere as demanding as that of Howard Hughes, he does a good job, as does everyone else. Even Mark Whalberg.