‘The Departed’ on DVD: the best of 2007

Ben Raymond

Martin Scorsese is 64 years old. At this age, most people join card clubs, drink tepid prune juice and forget their names, but Scorsese instead continues to redefine the art of filmmaking. Nearer to kicking the bucket than at the time of his early masterpieces, he mauls the conventional placidness of the aging artist, and finds his career defying expiration and realizing a second prime.

Marty’s latest classic is “The Departed,” a rousing, balls-to-the-walls thrill ride jam-packed with twists and craftily caked with smut. Beckoning back to the grandeur and artful nostalgia of the ’70s crime drama, it is a retrospective showcase of both method and madness that throttles audiences until they’re purple in the face and begging for more.

Set on the mean streets of Beantown, “The Departed” begins with sinister mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) recruiting then-adolescent Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) into his mafia syndicate. Having strategically placed Sullivan as a mole within the highest echelons of the state police investigations unit, Costello is free to pop caps and deal coke without hindrance. There, Sullivan begins a relationship with comely police psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga). Meanwhile, sergeants Queenan and Dignam (Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg), of the very same police unit, enlist the rough-and-tumble, streetwise Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate Costello’s gang and provide information leading to his downfall.

With a police snitch in the mob and a mob mole in the police, the film is a masterfully balanced game of cat-and-mouse that ensnares viewers from beginning to end, entrapping them in an energetic, smartly-executed bloodbath of constant intrigue and nearly unbearable suspense.

The ensemble performance is certainly one of the greatest this decade has to offer. Nicholson is as provocative and uproariously over-the-top as ever. Many of his lines and mannerisms are completely ad-libbed. Most notably, after shooting a woman kneeling on the beach, he coolly quips, “She fell funny.” Oh, Jack. You slay me.

Damon is an absolute weasel as he delivers a fantastically slimy performance; Wahlberg justly earns himself an Oscar nomination with a side-splittingly funny, obscenity-laced circus of verbal filth; and Farmiga is, in a word, smokin’.

The highlight of the ensemble is, without question, DiCaprio, who delivers an electrifying performance that is nothing short of astounding. How on God’s green earth, he did not earn an Oscar nomination is beyond me. His portrayal is simply explosive – a cathartic salvo of combustible ferocity ignited on a whim. The soul of his performance lies in how he manages to impart, in chorus, unbridled barbarism and extreme pathos. Both ruthless and pitiable, his portrayal is a powerful, resonant one that establishes him as one of today’s most capable actors.

William Monahan’s screenplay is … perfect. Adapted from a 2002 Hong Kong thriller titled “Infernal Affairs,” it is a seamlessly manipulated balancing act of tenuous intrigue, poignant drama and raucous humor with a decided propensity for the most profane, scabrous and unholy dialogue this side of a Quentin Tarantino. Among his energetic, wholly original masterpiece, Monahan scatters slurs, curse words, one-liners, middle fingers and other yecchy lingual scuzz into a veritable cornucopia of potty-mouthed delights. Written with intense dexterity and boorish stylization, it’s as good as good writing gets.

Scorsese returns to the urban blue-collar gangster genre that he himself reinvented way back in the Nixon administration. It really is miraculous that a 64-year-old man can direct a film with such tenacity and vigor. Maneuvering the camera with viperous grit, Scorsese directs at a breakneck pace. Marty, in his last three films, has exhibited an exacting diligence and freshness with the testicular fortitude and guttural vivacity of a man half his age. Here’s hoping the Academy grows a pair and gives him a flippin’ Oscar. The time is now, people!

Oh, this is a DVD review, isn’t it? Blast! How silly of me. I’ll keep this short.

It was released on Tuesday. Buy it … now! Preferably, buy the two-disc special edition. It has director commentary, additional scenes, a “Scorsese on Scorsese” profile and a piece on the real-life man behind the Costello character. It looks mighty sexy. If you’re a cheapskate, I suppose you could instead purchase the one-disc edition. But, for Pete’s sake, get the widescreen edition. Full screen is right up there with world hunger and calculus on my list of things I hate.

In my humble opinion, “The Departed” is the Best Picture of the year, hands down. If there is any justice, it should walk away with the Oscar in a few weeks.