Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” is in fact a remake of the Hong Kong Crime Thriller “Infernal Affairs” which has basically the same plot line, and sense of dread. Scorsese approaches the crime thriller yet again, with his version of the exceptional crime thriller, now set in the mean streets of Boston, and not the murky landscape of Korea. The narrative is basically the same, and Scorsese doesn’t seem to think he can do better than the original film, so he copies the original film verbatim, save for the ending. One big crime syndicate, one big police department. Both are at war. In both teams, the plot slowly unveils and we learn that in the syndicate there is a mole from the police department feeding information back to HQ, while there happens to be a mole from the syndicate in power at the police department distorting information.
I may not have enjoyed “The Aviator,” but I’ll say at least Scorsese seemed to be flying on his own power, and trying for something new. “The Departed” doesn’t really offer anything we haven’t already seen before. Even for folks who saw the original thriller first, it’s the same tropes and clichés Scorsese is known for. Normally an all-star cast would not persuade me to follow suit, but shit—Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin, all respectively fine actors who really don’t bring much to the table. Save for Mark Wahlberg. “Infernal Affairs” was an elaborate bit of crime and law warfare with both sides feeding information to one another, while each individual didn’t know who to trust. Both gang bosses had everyone turning on each other, and Scorses basically dumbs down the formula presented in the original. While I wouldn’t call “Infernal Affairs” a masterpiece, it had fresh ideas and innovative plot devices.
Scorsese really just seems to think his audience are fools, and he never advances the intellect of the original narrative at any point. The stand out performance, though, is from Leonardo DiCaprio who is a scene stealer as Billy Costigan, a cop on the inside whose worst enemy is his own psyche and the infatuation for his therapist. DiCaprio is raw here, and really manages to outweigh Damon in every respect. One of the reasons why I didn’t completely flip for “Infernal Affairs” was because we were given such an excellent plot, yet there was hardly any sense of pure gripping tension that kept me glued to my seat. It just wasn’t as engrossing as I’d originally hoped, which is why I prayed “The Departed” would have improved upon that, and the utterly abrupt climax. It just didn’t.
Rather than improving the abrupt final scene, it instead just offers a ridiculous symbolic ending where the bad guy pays, offering a shade of white, rather than keep the narrative in its shades of gray. With “The Departed,” the complete tense of atmosphere isn’t there. True, there’s tension, but there’s no edge of seat moments, especially since the grit that Scorsese excels in with “Mean Streets,” and “Goodfellas” was noticeably missing. It could be a number of reasons why, but Scorsese’s touch was gone, and I didn’t feel swelled with the imminent danger that his previous efforts brought to the table. Meanwhile, “The Departed” takes a very long time to get to the actual point of the story.
Whereas the original instantly had both moles performing their work, one feeding information to the authorities, the other distorting it from the authorities, and we’re forced to sit through a rather long investigation in the first twenty minutes, that ultimately doesn’t have much relevance until the climax, and even then it’s just not interesting. Sadly, they cut many of the fascinating plot devices from the former film. The Morse code feeding of information through a cast arm, and particularly the Triad Mole’s penchant for stereo systems that played a large role in the original. Without that sense of character element, the big reveal in “The Departed” doesn’t pack as much of a punch. “The Departed” is not by any means indicative of Scorsese at his best, which is sad, because he was once a fine director. “The Departed” is sub-par gangster fodder.