Winner of 4 Academy Awards (2007)
Best Director - Martin Scorsese
Best Adapted Screenplay - William Monahan
Best Editing - Thelma Schoonmaker
Continuing the "rise and fall" formula of classics like his own Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Casino, director Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006) reminds us that bad things can happen to bad people. Based on the Chinese film trilogy Infernal Affairs, The Departed relocates this story of undercover cops and robbers to the violent region of South Boston. Though yours truly hasn't seen the film that Scorsese has borrowed from, it's highly evident that the director has put his own stamp on this American remake. Long story short: if you like your crime sagas bold, brash and bloody, this one's right up your alley.
The Departed follows the devilish Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), an Irish-American crime lord loosely based on real-life fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger...not the New York gangster of the same name. Costello has buried his influence deep in the Massachusetts State Police, hand-picking young Colin Sullivan (who would later become an officer, played by Matt Damon) as a future mole for his organization. On the flipside, Sullivan's classmate Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is persuaded by police captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to join Costello's ranks after a prison stint for assault. It's all downhill from there...for the characters, not us.
As with many of Scorsese's crime sagas, the themes of identity and betrayal are placed front and center. Our protagonists (antagonists?) struggle to keep their identities secret under pressure from both sides, which naturally overflow into their personal relationships. As the reality of who's playing who gradually unfolds, it's understandable but not obvious; hard-hitting but not forced. The complex twists and turns are anchored by intense performances from Damon, Wahlberg, DiCaprio, and others---especially Nicholson, who frequently steals the show as the scenery-chewing, villainous Costello. It's usually hard to root for the bad guys (here, it's often hard to root for the good guys, too), but the conviction of the characters makes it easy to get lost in the chaos.
Partially fueled by precise editing and a blistering soundtrack, The Departed thunders by at a brisk but deliberate pace. Earlier scenes are distinctly punctuated by pitch-black comedy and quick transitions, establishing the story's unpredictable mood nicely. The dizzying number of characters involved is organized well, keeping the story focused without telling everything from one perspective. This isn't a behind-the-curtain tour of organized crime, as seen by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas; it's an all-out war between two gray factions, painted with broad, layered strokes. The Departed is perhaps Scorsese's best film since then---and if that's not enough to finally earn him a Best Director statue, Three 6 Mafia will maintain bragging rights for another few years. (UPDATE: It was!)
It's only been a few months since The Departed did respectable business at the box office, but this story of crime and punishment has already arrived on DVD before the Oscars. This 2-disc Special Edition (also available in a single-disc package) feels a bit rushed, but those who enjoyed the film theatrically should find that it plays equally well on the small screen. The technical presentation is perhaps this release's greatest highlight, as the bonus features are entertaining and worthwhile but don't always deal with the film at hand. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, The Departed appears to be in great shape. The gritty Boston landscapes look crisp and clear, boasting a natural color palette and excellent image detail. No digital problems (edge enhancement and pixellation, for example) were spotted along the way, rounding out the video presentation nicely.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish or French) and sounds very good. Dialogue is clear and easily heard; the surround channels aren't as active as some might expect, but they're still put to great use during several key sequences. Optional subtitles, available during the film only, are also presented in English, Spanish or French.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the relatively basic menu designs are simple and easy to navigate. The 152-minute main feature has been divided into a generous 37 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This two-disc release is housed in a standard black hinged keepcase and fits inside a matching slipcover. No inserts have been included.
Those who purchase the single-disc edition will be missing out here, as the only extra on Disc 1 is the film's excellent Theatrical Trailer. The lack of an audio commentary with the cast or crew (especially Scorsese) is sorely missed, but it's no surprise given the film's quick DVD turnaround time.
Disc 2 includes a pair of loosely-related featurettes and a first person documentary following Scorsese's successful career. First up is "Stranger Than Fiction: The True Story of Whitey Bulger, Southie and The Departed" (20 minutes, below left), which discusses the real-life characters and situations that helped influence the film. We hear from several members of the cast and crew---as well as a few Boston police officers and journalists---about the violent atmosphere that Bulger and company helped to create, and how it helped set the mood for The Departed.
"Scorsese On Scorsese" (85 minutes, below right) is next, and this 2004 Turner Classic Films production is really worth watching for fans of the acclaimed director. Though it obviously doesn't cover The Departed, nearly every other film in Scorsese's portfolio is touched upon. It's always good to hear additional comments for less talked-about classics like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, though other favorites like After Hours and Bringing Out the Dead are glossed over. Still, it's great to hear the thoughts of the well-spoken director, who candidly discusses his home environment growing up and how his films would be affected accordingly. This 85-minute documentary (divided into 17 chapters, with no index) also closes with a recent American Express commercial featuring the director, which sums up his approach to filmmaking perfectly.
"Crossing Criminal Cultures" (24 minutes) is roughly identical to "Stranger Than Fiction" in terms of tone and execution. This featurette compares and contrasts The Departed to Scorsese's other mob films (Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Casino, in particular), also drawing parallels to the director's fondness for film noir. "Crossing Criminal Cultures" partners well with the other two pieces, though it also strays a bit far from the main feature.
Closing out the extras is a collection of Deleted & Extended Scenes (9 clips, 19 minutes total), presented with introductions by Scorsese. There's some good material here, but it's easy to see why most of it was trimmed from the 152-minute main feature. The introductions by Scorsese are particularly helpful, as each one sets up the respective scene and often details why it didn't make the final cut. Oddly enough, these scenes are presented without chapter breaks, though it's not as frustrating the first time through.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and widescreen aspect ratios, though the latter haven't been enhanced for widescreen displays (with the exception of the trailer on Disc 1). Only French subtitles are provided here, as with most recent Warner 2-disc editions. Why not include English as well, at least in Closed Caption form?
Bold, complex and visceral, Martin Scorsese's The Departed is one of the acclaimed director's most engaging films of the past 20 years. It's certainly not for the squeamish: this blood-soaked tale of corruption and betrayal is every bit as raw as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, and it's got the emotional weight and intense performances to back everything up. Warner's 2-disc DVD package seems a bit rushed, though it still boasts a strong technical presentation and a decent assortment of bonus material. Casual fans may be satisfied with the one-disc version, but this Special Edition offers more bang for the buck. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.