Lowdown: It's a thin line between good and bad.
I was never a fan of Martin Scorsese. Taxi Driver failed to move me, and his mafia movies were always under the shadow of the first two Godfather films. His more recent efforts, Gangs of New York and The Aviator, were exercises in being boring and eccentric. The Departed, however, is better than those recent efforts, although I wouldn't label it as anything special.
The Departed's story appears to be complex and involves many characters, but once you get the hang of it things become simple to follow: it's one of those films we've seen before under numerous guises. Set in Boston, which - at least if you let the film dictate your impression of the place - is one big fertile ground for gangs of criminals who pretty much control everything that takes place within the community; no one is out of touch with them. Jack Nicholson plays the head honcho of the ruling gang, and to help himself get out of the police's reach he nurtures a policeman to become his own double agent - played by Matt Damon. On Damon's opposition side we have Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a cop of a background pretty similar to Damon's; however, instead of falling for the dark side of the Force, Leo sacrifices his life to become an insider for the police with Nicholson's gang. Thus, and with the aid of many other famous actors, the scene is set for a showdown between Damon and Leo - one seemingly evil, the other seemingly good, as they struggle to remain in favor with the police and with the gangs.
This struggle works pretty well, and The Departed offers lots of tension. The main reason why it works is the collection of characters and actors involved, which add a layer of complexity to this struggle between good and evil, which in its turn gives an aroma of authenticity. We're talking here about actors such as Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg.
The main thing working in favor of the film's attempt to show the thin edge between being good and bad, to the point of showing there is no difference between being good and bad, is the comparison between Leo and Damon. They're made to go through similar experiences and they're even made to look the same, especially through the use of the wardrobe department; and if anything works well in The Departed, it is this.
However, there are many things that don't work well in The Departed. For a start, everything is just way over the top: the cinematography attracts attention to itself, the editing, and yes - even the acting is overcooked. The way the characters behave and pronounce themselves is just more than what could pass with me for real. Case in point is Wahlberg's character, who never stops swearing and acting quite violently towards anyone, whether friend or foe. I realize this goes with showing that the good is not different to the bad, but the high octane also makes for low credibility.
I have already mentioned the acting as a positive, but I will also add that while I think The Departed is the first time I recall DiCaprio portraying a genuine person in a genuine way, I wasn't that greatly impressed with some of the work. Nicholson, for a start, gives a good performance, but it's the typical Nicholson performance we've seen 100 times before.
And talking about things we've seen 100 times before, let's talk about the script. At its basic level of a good cop / bad cop fight, we've definitely seen this film before. True, The Departed is quite thrilling and you don't really notice its length, but it's also a film that wouldn't really leave its mark on you. Give it a couple of days and you'll forget all about it.
Personally, there is one thing I will take from this film: there is a scene where a character offers another one a croissant, and asks "care for a French donut?". What can I say other than "oh my god".
Best scene: DiCaprio and Damon, on the hunt for each other, have themselves a silent showdown over their mobile phones. It's the first time I recall a duel scene where guns are replaced by mobiles.
Picture quality: I've mentioned already that the cinematography attracts too much attention. The picture is very grainy and high in contrast, which I suppose was a very conscientious decision by the filmmakers. I just found it too distracting.
Sound quality: Less than nothing special. Most of the action takes place over the center channel, and the surrounds are rarely utilized. You sort of expect more from a film with such a high claim to fame as The Departed.
Overall: I'll be generous and give it 3.5 stars.