Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning remake of the Hong-Kong trilogy Infernal Affairs, The Departed, is just as riveting as everyone says it is. Not only that, but it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire two hours and a half running time. Not many movies can do that, but this is one of the exceptions. The movies comes at you fast and never stops. It’s quick, it’s witty, and, more importantly, it’s smart, too. Warner Home Video has released The Departed is both a regular bare-bones edition, and a special two-disc release. Guess which one is worth your hard-earned cash?
The Departed is set in South Boston, where the state police force is waging war on organized crime. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Costello (Jack Nicholson). While Billy is quickly gaining Costello’s confidence, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the police department as an informer for the syndicate, is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit. Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operations he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the gangsters and the police that there’s a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin are suddenly in danger of being caught and exposed to the enemy – and each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself. Leonardo DiCaprio shines in both The Departed and Blood Diamond, both available from Warner Home Video.
Having never seen Infernal Affairs, the movie that laid the groundwork for Scorsese’s adaptation, I can’t honestly compare the two. Reviews comparing the movie seem to go both ways, saying The Departed is both better or worse than the Hong Kong film series that inspired it. Since I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs I can’t make that comparison. I can, however, review what I see as a great Scorsese film (a film that’s likely his best since GoodFellas, though I hate that comparison).
What Scorsese excels at here is building the tension over a two hours and a half running time. He’s able to give us a sensation that anything can happen here. That none of these characters are safe from the moment they’re introduced. As the movie progresses, the story becomes deadlier and the confrontations more extreme. Scorsese is able to make us question their loyalties up to the last minute, as it seems like at any moment these guys could switch sides or strike out on their own. Decisions are made in a split second that change the course of the film, and Scorsese does it with such refinement that it leaves the viewer reeling.
What sells the movie is the superb cast across the board, led by Jack Nicholson’s brilliant performance as mob boss everyone wants a piece of. It’s such an intense performance, like he’s ready to lose his cool and burst at any moment. Oddly enough, he also provides a lot of the movie’s humor, be it with how he casually dispatches his orders or goes on hate-filled rant after hate-filled rant. There’s something disturbing, yet true about his character.
Damon and DiCaprio carry the picture nicely, as two characters on an inevitable collision course with each other. DiCaprio’s character is constantly on his last nerve, eager to find a way out as soon as possible. Damon, however, is the exact opposite. He’s cold and calculating, putting on a false face with his every move, done just to serve his benefit and his benefit alone. It’s great to see how these characters, both moles in their respective organizations, work to keep afloat. DiCaprio struggles with his undercover assignment, one that no one knows about, while Damon’s character gets to bask in sunshine, enjoying all the perks of a double-life. It’s such a beautifully handled contrast.
The supporting cast also includes great turns by Mark Wahlberg (who actually received an Academy Award nomination for his work), Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga. There’s not a bad performance in the punch, and much of the humor comes from the interactions between the supporting cast (especially Baldwin and Wahlberg). The way Scorsese is able to balance the serious crime drama with some of the more lighter moments is inspired, with characters blurting out so much memorable dialogue.
The only thing I could see people having a problem with is the sometimes absurd ultra-violence. Sure, there’s a few bits that are played for laughs, or perhaps cause an unintentional giggle or two, but it seems to fit. Even in one scene where a host of characters get their heads blown off in rapid succession. It’s startling, and ultimately leads up to a final scene where it all comes together (somewhat) but it seems to work. And it’s done to rapid-quick that there’s hardly time to react to it. A lot of the aspects of this movie are pushed to the brink (be it the language, violence, etc.), but it all seems to work in context.
Still, it’s a solid flick that’s enjoyable and pins you to your seat. Everything unfolds so fast that you may need to watch it a second time to catch it all. So, does a solid movie make for a solid DVD? Warner Home Video has released The Departed in both a bare-bones release and a special two-disc special edition, and yes, the two-disc release is the way to go.
The audio and video transfer is top notch for this standard definition release. The transfer is crisp, allowing the viewers to see every spec of dirt and grime that inhabits the streets of Boston. The audio is booming. The dialogue is sharp and clear, able to make out even the most rapid of dialogue exchange. The actions scenes are pumped loud and abrasive, sometimes almost deafening (ditto with scenes when the music simply overpowers everything else on screen).
The special edition release is surprisingly solid. With two-disc release becoming more and more sparse, it’s nice to see a nice collection of extras such as these. Sure, there’s no commentary (yet again), but the set does actually feel like a “Special Edition” release, not just two discs full of fluff material.
The second disc focuses mostly on Scorsese’s work and the inspirations behind the characters in The Departed. The second disc contains a host of features and documentaries, including the 2004 Turner Classic Films production “Scorsese on Scorsese” (fans of the acclaimed director may want to check it out). As an added bonus, the documentary is surprisingly broken into chapters. Other featurettes, such as “Crossing Criminal Cultures,” compares the crooks in The Departed with bad guys made famous through Scorsese’s other works. To top it off, the disc includes a collection of Deleted & Extended Scenes, presented with introductions by Scorsese. It’s a healthy collection of extras that make up for the lack of commentary tracks.
This movie is just a visceral thrill. The performances are superb across the board, and the story and feel of the movie is astonishingly authentic. For those who haven’t yet checked out The Departed (which everyone should have by now), now is a great time to give it a spin. If anything, watch it for Nicholson’s excellent performance (especially the intense scenes between Nicholson and DiCaprio – great stuff!). The Departed: Two-Disc Special Edition comes Highly Recommended.
On a related note, for those looking for more Leonardo DiCaprio goodness, Warner Home Video has also released, in both a bare bones single disc release and two-disc special edition, the Oscar-nominated film Blood Diamond. While not the huge financial success Warner was hoping for, this big-budgeted movie did respectable business before slipping away from theaters at the end of 2006. The official synopsis for the movie is below.
An ex-mercenary turned smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio). A Mende fisherman (Djimon Hounsou). Amid the explosive civil war overtaking 1999 Sierra Leone, these men join for two desperate missions: recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value and rescuing the fisherman’s son, conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces ripping a swath of torture and bloodshed across the alternately beautiful and ravaged countryside. Directed by Edward Zwick, this urgent, intensely moving adventure shapes gripping human stories and heart-pounding action into a modern epic of profound impact.
For a few dollars more, the special edition release of Blood Diamond contains a wide-array of special features (and actually includes a commentary track!). The first disc contains a commentary track by director Edward Zwick and the the film’s Theatrical Trailer, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is all the extras you’ll get if you opt for the single disc release. But how about the second disc for the special edition version?
Disc Two begins with the documentary “Blood on the Stone,” providing a thorough look into the African diamond conflicts. While it doesn’t go too deep, the documentary provides a solid look at the main theme of the feature presentation on Disc One (i.e., the movie). After that is a trio of featurettes focusing on Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (“Becoming Archer”), Jennifer Connelly’s character (“Journalists on the Front Line”), and the breakdown of a battle scene (“Inside the Siege of Freetown”). The second disc closes with a music video.
For those interested in following up The Departed with another movie, give Blood Diamond a chance. DiCaprio takes a decidedly different role, one which earned him his latest Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The special edition provides an interesting look into actual events that inspired Blood Diamond, as well as a look into the movie itself. Warner Home Video has released another solid two-disc special edition that’s worth a look.