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The Departed: Special Edition

More likely than not, Martin Scorsese will be remembered several decades from now as America's foremost director of crime dramas — which, if accurate, will also be grossly unfair. Scorsese himself is quick to point out that his examinations of organized crime make up a small percentage of his filmography, which has embraced such varied works as The Last Temptation of Christ, the period drama The Age of Innocence, and biopics Raging Bull and The Aviator. But the director's own roots in the heart of American urbanity, growing up in Manhattan's lower east side, have informed his career from the outset. His first low-budget feature, Who's That Knocking On My Door? (1967), was shot on the streets of New York, where Scorsese, as a young boy with severe asthma, found himself an observer of all things, be it Hollywood movies or the low-level criminal intrigue of Little Italy. His 1973 breakout Mean Streets served as an antithesis to The Godfather, a story of crime and family and guilt but with none of the romance. Surprisingly, Scorsese would not return to the genre for 17 years, but Goodfellas (1990) may be the work he's best remembered for — and it's only because Goodfellas is such as masterpiece that the subsequent Casino (1995) was too easily overlooked by critics, being an equally powerful epic in its own right. Gangs of New York (2002) failed to earn overwhelming praise, but The Departed (2006) finds Scorsese back on solid footing — which perhaps isn't the best thing for a director who's facing a fan-base that wants the rush of seeing Goodfellas again for the first time. The Departed may not equal Scorsese's finest effort, although it's a testament to his tradecraft — and it represents his best chance to win the Oscar that has eluded him throughout his career.

The Departed tells the story of two young men who know nothing of each other and the brutal crime boss they are forced to trust with their own lives. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) grew up in divided worlds, between his mother's upper-middle-class lifestyle and his father's blue-collar existence among the criminal elements of South Boston — despite his uncle's association with mob activities, Costigan is determined to become a state trooper, only to be diverted into the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) for undercover work. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) grew up in "Southie" as well, but his young association with gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) doesn't prevent his entry into the State Police, where he soon finds himself running a small task-force — his position is perfect for giving Costello regular tips, although he's not given access to Dignam's undercover people, one of which is Costigan, who soon works his way into Costello's crew. The theft of military-grade microprocessors soon puts the SIU on Costello's trail, hoping to make the kind of bust that will stick for a lifetime. However, when things don't according to plan, Lt. Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) tasks Sullivan with hunting down Costello's mole in the department. Meanwhile, Costigan doesn't understand why Queenan and Dignam refuse to arrest Costello on a variety of felony charges — and it's no secret that the gangster is hunting a rat as well.

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Martin Scorsese has often turned to unique source-material for his films — everything from scripts by Paul Schrader to the New Testament to non-fiction accounts of criminal lives. The Departed is essentially an American update of the Chinese film Infernal Affairs ("Mou gaan dou," 2002), one of the most popular movies to come out of Hong Kong for several years. The adaptation seems perfect for Scorsese, only too aware of how East-meets-West film adaptations benefited directors such as Akira Kurosawa and John Sturges. But The Departed also becomes authentically American due to its specific location and a bit of local history — the character of Frank Costello may not be based on legendary Boston mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger, but the comparisons are clear enough, and while film fans around the world will enjoy watching Jack Nicholson playing an eccentric, aging racketeer (watch his face contort as he chews on the word "rat"), those who grew up in Southie can't miss the allusions to the neighborhood's well-documented underworld, where a handful of nondescript liquor stores and bars have served as safe havens for the gangsters who run them. Nicholson's pivotal turn in The Departed can only make one wonder how Robert De Niro would have interpreted the role (he and Scorsese have not collaborated for more than a decade), but, as expected, Nicholson brings his own style to the part, with many of the more humorous elements reportedly suggested by the actor himself, providing off-key moments of wit in an otherwise tense movie. The Departed concerns itself with both identity and deceit, in particular how the nature of dual identities can become both internally corrosive and symbiotically shared with others — DiCaprio and Damon's physical resemblance is enhanced more than once by their clothing, and they not only share a father figure in Costello, but, unwittingly, a girlfriend as well (Vera Farmiga). While not all of the film was shot on Boston streets (New York doubled for most location work), Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg's Boston roots lend the picture its much-needed authenticity. For his part, Leonardo DiCaprio had to learn the distinctive South Boston accent, but with The Departed he proves again that he's to be taken seriously as an actor — perhaps now film fans can begin to forget about the $600 million boat movie that nearly typecast him for the rest of his life.

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Warner's two-disc DVD release of The Departed offers a splendid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The feature and theatrical trailer are on Disc One, while Disc Two contains the excellent supplements, which includes the feature-length documentary Scorsese on Scorsese, produced by Richard Shickel, in which Scorsese happily recounts most of the titles in his filmography (85 min.). Also on hand are the featurettes "Stranger Than Fiction: The True Story of Whitey Bulger, Southie and The Departed" (21 min.) and "Crossing Criminal Cultures" (24 min.), as well as a reel of additional scenes introduced by Scorsese (19 min.). Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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