As good a remake as you could hope for, were you in fact hoping for another one.
Hey, boys and girls, it's another remake! Let us dance the happy dance and try not to fall asleep at the back, there. This time Martin Scorsese takes on the repackaging of Hong Kong all-star cops 'n' robbers hokum Infernal Affairs, turning it into an all-star cops 'n' robbers Boston hokum with results that perhaps best shows how this sort of thing ought to be done, if it must be done.
Must it be done? While it's a considerable distance from the frame for frame remakes of the umpteen Asian horror flicks that have oozed out over the past few years, it's still recognisably identical, narratively at least, underneath the Bostonian drawls and Scorsese's urgent, harsh style. This question warrants further reflection, but only after giving the uninitiated the gist of the story.
Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) rules over the organised crime scene of Boston, and as part of maintaining his illicit empire he decides to send indoctrinated fresh faced local kid Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) into the police force, with the obvious utility that would supply. Sullivan rises through the ranks quickly, aided in large part by the useful information supplied by Costello enabling Sullivan to pick up Costello's enemies as and when required. Before long he's promoted to Ellerby (Alec Baldwin)'s task force charged with taking Costello down.
Of course, it's not just the criminals who can do this undercover thing. Um. There's something odd about that statement. Anyhoo, head of the undercover unit Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his foul-mouthed sidekick Dignam (Mark 'Marky "Mark Wahlberg" Mark' Wahlberg) spot the edgy Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) coming through training, the son of the seemingly the only honest man in a family of crooks. Thinking they can exploit his unwanted family connections and his often violent temperament, they cajole him into taking a brief stint in prison on faked assault charges and then starting the lengthy and dangerous process of wheedling his way into Costello's inner circle.
As part of his parole, Costigan is ordered to see a shrink, Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), who happens to be Sullivan's girlfriend. Oh, what tangled webs, etc. Before too long, Costello is informed that there's a rat in his crew courtesy of Sullivan, although Queenan and Dignam have wisely seen to it that no-one else knows the identity of the undercover man. Before too much longer, the coppers figure out that they've a rat infestation also. Sounds like a set up for conflict to me, and there will most certainly be a decent body count on both sides before the contractually obligated rooftop showdown finale.
Certainly one of the things its predecessor brought to the table was a novel twist to the genre, so if you've missed out on Infernal Affairs then The Departed still has that going for it. If we assume you've seen its forefather, and seeing as you're the sort of waifishly beautiful, devastatingly witty intellectual colossus that reads this site we believe we assume safely, what else does Scorsese's version offer you?
Well, there's that cast, for a start. About the only negative thing I can bring myself to say about any of them is that Matt Damon's accent becomes somewhat grating, and hell, that's Boston's fault more than it's Damon's. Otherwise he does very well, eclipsed only by Di Caprio's tortured, nerve's edge performance that so exemplary that it almost makes up for Titanic. Jack Nicholson's Joker-off-Batman inspired mob-boss act might be leaving teethmarks on the scenery for most of his screentime, but his ebullient brand of crazy/evil is about as much fun to watch as anything else seen this year. Supporting acts come in few finer shapes than you'll get here, with the strange double act of Wahlberg's charismatic, needlessly offensive antagonism and Sheen's paternal protection towards Di Caprio's character proving memorable and Alec Baldwin again looking like he's going to steal Chris Walken's crown as a bit-part scene stealer. All of this, and David O'Hara and Ray Winstone as part of Costello's goon squad? Can't go wrong.
What else, then? Well, as hinted at before, in terms of localising these remakes there's been few better suited than this, I suppose in part because Infernal Affairs always felt as though it was inspired by Goodfellas and the ilk. Scorsese delivers the sort of pacy, high impact style that would have made Gangs of New York something spectacular rather than mildly notable. In short, it unfolds so engagingly that we can forget the general familiarity and still be rather shocked by the events of the finale.
It's sort of difficult to judge it in isolation from Infernal Affairs, and I'm not even sure there's any point in trying. The Departed is simply as good a slice of crime drama as you'll see in a cinema this year, and perhaps the best seen since Narc. Provenance be damned, good is good regardless of origin and The Departed is good.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan)
Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello)
Mark Wahlberg (Dignam)
Martin Sheen (Oliver Queenan)
Ray Winstone (Mr. French)
Vera Farmiga (Madolyn)
Alec Baldwin (Ellerby)
David O'Hara (Fitzy)