The immediate question is whether The Departed measures up to the stellar standards set by Infernal Affairs, the movie from which Scorsese and Monahan adapted the film. My answer would be no – it pales beside the original.
I had high expectations for The Departed – I have always admired Scorsese’s films. Even the less successful ones like Bringing Out The Dead had a high level of energy and you could literally feel Scorsese’s enthusiasm through the visuals. The Departed lacks this buzz. It is by no means a “bad” film – just that I expected more from a Scorsese film.
First of all, I think Scorsese hired too many star actors. The Departed takes characters from the original and splits them into multiple roles in order to accommodate more stars. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen share Anthony Wong’s character. Chapman To’s comic relief role is spilt up for 3 actors. This means there are many more roles in the film, but each plays a diminished part. Not good.
Infernal Affairs showed the inner turmoil of the key characters played by Andy Lau and Tony Leung. This is a conflict between who they are, what they pretend to be and what they aspire to be. This motif elevates the movie from being just another genre picture to one that explores identity issues and the cost of role-playing (that is the price tag of pretending to be a cop or a gangster). I feel these crucial themes are missing in The Departed.
Curiously, I found The Departed rather subdued for a Scorsese film. Sure there is much swearing and some violence. But these seem to lack energy or passion when compared to the exploits of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas or Casino. In fact, the swearing seems to me to be mere posturing in lieu of genuine menace.
Jack Nicholson overacts. So much so that I didn’t find his character a fearful crime lord – he seemed more like someone who has lost his mind. I’m not sure whether he was providing comic relief or not, to tell you the truth. The other actors fared better, but the talents of Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone are squandered in under-developed roles. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon acquit themselves – still I preferred both Tony Leung and even Andy Lau to them.
Verdict: despite these “negative” comments, The Departed is still an entertaining film, just not up to the stellar standards of a “classic” Scorsese or the original Infernal Affairs. Recommended.