The Best Picture Winners: The Departed (2006)

| February 12, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

I’ve said before that the most persistent complaint about the Academy Awards is their short-sightedness about comedy; but second only to that is the their short-sightedness over the work of Martin Scorsese.  Here is an American film director who has become a legend in his own time; a man who has created a tapestry of his personal homeland (New York) in a manner rivaled only by the likes of Fellini.  His films are legendary and will be studied for generations.  And YET, out of a 45 year career, he has received the Academy Award only once.  Here is a man whose mantel should be filled with Oscars for Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ and certainly Goodfellas.

Oddly enough, his first Oscar came for The Departed, not a New York story, but rather a story that moves north-east to Boston, to a different terrain all-together.  Even still, after wandering in historical pastures with Gangs of New York and then The Aviator, Scorsese returned to his Mean Streets roots with a roller-coaster of a crime drama called The Departed, based on the 2002 Chinese hit Infernal Affairs. It revolves around a cat-and-mouse game involving the Massachusetts Police and the Irish Mob with Leonardo DiCaprio as an undercover cop and Matt Damon as a mob stoolie working for the police. These two don’t know this fact and that makes the drama work.

What works well here are the meat-on-the-bone characters.  The men here are fueled by ambition and the drive that motivates all of Scorsese’s characters.  There’s a motivation in this film to make it more than just a cop drama, to elevate it to a higher plane than the typical urban thriller.  What cold be just another procedural is structured by Scorsese into a grand entertainment.

And yet!

While I admire Scorsese’s filmmaking, I can’t say that The Departed was his best work. The movie is gripping but it is unfocused as it spirals around a line-up of characters that we don’t really get to know – they are meaty, yes, but they always seem at arm’s length from us.  And then the movie lands at a conclusion that doesn’t leave much for the viewer.  That’s not what you want you want to conclude in a film from America’s greatest living director.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.