It’s not often that I can describe myself as being “captivated” but as soon as Jack Nicholson comes along and says “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me,” I was sold.
Going through the cast list of The Departed, it took awhile before I got to the name of anyone who didn’t blow me away with their performance. And, to Anthony Anderson’s credit, he didn’t really have enough lines to have a fair crack at it.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays protagonist-est character Billy Costigan, a man whose intellect and potential have made him incompatible with the police force he hopes to join. On the other hand, these traits have made him uniquely capable of infiltrating the gang of the mobster reigning over the very neighbourhood he has outgrown. His keen ability to emulate his targets, however, take a toll, compromising his safety, and, perhaps more importantly, his identity.
Then you’ve got Matt Damon as the mole on the other side: a local boy named Colin Sullivan, raised under the watchful eye of the mob, brought up to infiltrate the police. Watching Damon, you cannot help but sympathize with his position. Trained for just one purpose, to which he devotes himself entirely, Colin’s world starts to fall apart as he learns about the fragility and fickleness of gang favour.
Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello is a force to be reckoned with. A master of self-aggrandization and -mytholization, Costello has only gotten better as he has devoted decades to building, securing, and maintaining his hold at the top of the Boston crime circuit. Recognizing his mortality and impermanence, Costello (and Nicholson’s portrayal) straddles a strange line of legacy building and just not giving a fuck.
Mark Wahlberg plays Staff Sergeant Dignam, a cop whose eccentricities are forgivable by the fierce loyalty and passion he has for his position. Often alongside Dignam is Captain Queenan, played by Martin Sheen, an experienced public servant who has seen enough to not be bothered with the nonsense of others, but who has also seen enough to realize just how serious this whole thing has gotten.
Ray Winstone plays Mr. French, Costello’s second-in-command with an unsettling violence, but a heartwarming loyalty. And lastly, Vera Farmiga, the only woman with a role of any significance, plays police psychiatrist Madolyn. Without realizing it, she finds herself drawn into the lives of two men, on opposing sides of the law, trying to help them with their troubles without being able to get a handle on what she, herself, wants. Farmiga’s performance is almost enough to make you forget the enormous gender imbalance, because she seems to be enough woman for everyone.
The Departed is not a perfect film. There are unanswered questions and questionable decisions abound, but it’s got enough flash and humanity to make you forget about any issues you might have. It more than makes up for its deficiencies, and leaves you breathless by the end.