One line review: Distrust fuels this high octane cat and mouse mob drama.

Martin Scorcese finally won his directorial Oscar for this light-footed outing, a breather, and a return to the present for him after back-to-back period dramas. The Departed is serious and gory stuff, but it’s also exuberant and entertaining. It is also deeply satisfying to our basic instincts. For example, in the last scene, when Di Caprio finally encounters the mole, Matt Damon, we want him to beat him to a pulp, and he does. When Dignan (Mark Wahlberg) insults an already fragile Di Caprio, we want him to break down and have a good swing at Dignan, and he does. And of course, the satisfying climax.

Based on the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the Departed is about the usual cops vs. mobsters, with multiple moles on either side. The film crackles without a pause, with the constant back and forth scenes among the numerous characters. But the transitions are never confusing, only exhilarating, thanks to William Monahan’s Oscar-winning screenplay and Thelma Schoonmaker’s Oscar-winning editing.

The Boston Police department’s Special Investigation Unit has been long after feared mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), loosely based on the infamous Whitey Bulgur. Still, he always manages to give them the slip, thanks to his numerous well-placed moles, like Staff Sergeant Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon), groomed by Costello since he was a boy. The SIU’s secret wing, led by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and loudmouth Sargeant Dignan (Wahlberg), recruits newcomer Billy Costigan Jr (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s gang because of his family’s connection to the mob. What follows is both moles trying to stay one step ahead of each other, thwarting either side’s attempts to get to Costello. In addition, both moles having a common girlfriend: prison psychiatrist Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga), adds to the already intricate plot.

When you finally think you’ve figured out the good and the bad guys, another twist awaits. Distrust is the film’s lifeblood, and Scorcese keeps us on our toes guessing whom to trust. You can trust no one until the end credits roll. And in the end, the bad guys get the deaths they deserve. Some good guys also die but not in vain since their efforts are recognized and their legacies protected. In its twisted way, justice prevails; the universe eventually sorts everything out. Since the film’s lifeblood is distrust, the few characters with integrity pop out. Martin Sheen is perfectly cast as the solid, honest cop, bringing the much-needed moral gravitas to the plot. The other is the forbidden yet genuine love between Farmiga and Di Caprio’s characters. Alec Baldwin as the sharp Captain Ellerby and Wahlberg as the fiercely loyal Sargent Dignan also keep our faith in law enforcement alive.

The Departed soars because of its director’s deft touch and the ensemble cast’s performances. The great Jack Nicholson is surprisingly the weakest link in the film. He is pitch-perfect as the crazed boss who’s losing it, but it’s hard to believe he’s menacing enough to exert iron control over his followers. His first in command French, played by a superb Ray Winstone, seems more ruthless and dangerous. Thankfully, Nicholson fades in and out, allowing the real players to shine. The always reliable Di Caprio is on familiar ground here as the anxiety-ridden, fragile, yet brilliant cop. An acting masterclass is his visible balking on seeing Nicholson casually take out a severed hand from a package. Matt Damon is a perfect foil, although one has to watch the film multiple times not to miss the few seconds that show us his vulnerabilities because he is very much a victim of his circumstances. Otherwise, he’s mostly playing the one-dimensional sleek bad guy. Wahlberg received an Oscar nomination for portraying the abrasive, foul-mouthed yet rock-solid loyal cop. Wahlberg superbly conveys this duality without words because his lines are mostly expletives. The only female in the cast, Farmiga brings the soft yet tough steel persona to her role. She mentions that it is this contradiction of the character that attracted her to the role.

Scorcese has you by the scruff from the opening credits and takes you on a wild roller coaster ride; you land screaming yet exuberant. “I’m shipping up to Boston’s” pounding tune perfectly captures the essence of the Departed.

Why watch it? To see a ten-round heavy hitting, bloody boxing match without the guilt.  

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