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Warner Home Video presents
Billy: What are you waiting for? Do you want him to chop me up and feed me to the poor? Is that what you want?
DVD ReviewMartin Scorsese has become indelibly linked with the organized crime film, even though it doesn't represent the greater portion of his total output. This may be because he has truly reinvented the genre, giving it a gritty reality that hearkens back to the Warner pictures of the 1930s while also maintaining a thoroughly modern attitude that is unflinching in its depiction of the brutality of the lifestyle. That trend continues with his latest work, The Departed, which also ranks among the grimmest of his pictures to date.
In South Boston, everything is run by Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). The story follows two young policemen and how their fates intertwine with Costello's. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes deep undercover, serving a jail term and slowly gaining Costello's trust, in order to report back to Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and staff sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), as they try to build a case against Costello. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) takes the more direct route, becoming a respected detective, but actually working for Costello and determined to root out the informant within the gang. The intrigues grow increasingly complex, with few people being what they seem.
As violent as pictures such as Goodfellas are, the brutality ante is significantly upped here. Costello's reign of terror includes casual violence and murder, with savage beatings the norm. A number of particularly gory homicides pass by with little ceremony, and the multiple finales are literal bloodbaths. The effect is both visceral and chilling as the viewer experiences the guilt and anguish that Costigan feels as he takes part in ever worse atrocities for what appears to be the good motive.
Few pictures from Hollywood manage to be as bleak and nihilistic as The Departed; the result is a tormented portrait of the police as thoroughly corrupt, with deception the order of the day. The criminal elements are so thoroughly infiltrated by various competing police agencies that by the end one wonders if there would be any mob at all if not for its perpetuation by thuggish cops taking part in these activities. Since the uniformed police are owned by Costello through and through—with very few exceptions—there doesn't appear to be any hope for the city or any escape for the ordinary people who are being worked over by both criminals and the cops, who are hardly distinguishable. That is, unless and until every single one of them ends up dead—and very few characters survive, leaving the stage at the end credits looking like the leftovers in Hamlet.
Nonetheless, it's compelling, if difficult viewing. DiCaprio turns in a magnificent performance that's full of surprises. It's one of the most thoroughly nuanced roles he's ever had, with equal parts arrogant braggadocio and queasy terror. He's particularly interesting as it becomes less clear that the police are going to back him up, leaving him in his moral morass without much of a lifeline. Matt Damon doesn't get quite as much opportunity to shine, though his smug natural attitude fits quite appropriately. Nicholson is in full-on lunatic Joker mode, making him nearly as memorable as Joe Pesci's turn in Goodfellas. Sheen and Wahlberg are enjoyable as they play good cop/bad cop with DiCaprio, testing his loyalties and dedication far beyond the breaking point. Alec Baldwin's part ends up being fairly pedestrian, with all of his interesting character bits relegated to the deleted scenes.
Although it's nearly as ambitious in scope, unlike Gangs of New York the story keeps a tighter focus on its central twosome. A romantic triangle between Colin, Billy and police psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Famiga) is the one false note that feels too Hollywood. Although she ends up being important to the plot rather than just window dressing, Madolyn just seems too convenient a linking device. The dialogue is crisp and snappy (though pervasively blue). Loosely based on a combination of the Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs and the real-life mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, it's a grim and unrelenting movie that carries as big a punch as anything Scorsese has ever done.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The disc features a 1080p HD transfer on one side, and an anamorphic widescreen version on the other. The HD picture seems somewhat filtered; it's a bit soft and lacking in fine detail. However, texture is reasonably well brought across. There are numerous grainy sequences that are shrouded in darkness, but there's reasonably good definition amongst the blacks for the most part. The grain isn't sparkly or obnoxious on the HD side.
The standard DVD side is nearly on a par with the HD version during a good portion of the running time. The grainy sequences, however, are not nearly as attractive, with plenty of sparkle. Dot crawl and aliasing are also present at times, and there is some edge enhancement to boot (not visible on the HD version).
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The HD side features DD+ 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish, as well as a Dolby TrueHD English track. The latter is rather unremarkable, and the DD+ tracks are more than satisfactory for the most part. As one might expect, all tracks are clean and free of noise. Range is good, though directionality is somewhat limited.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: Happily, Warner has finally seen fit to drop that HD DVD promo that has been plaguing all of its releases. We hope that omission will continue, since anyone playing an HD DVD will have already bought into the format
All of the extras are on the HD DVD side (except the anamorphic widescreen trailer, which is on both sides), which to some extent doesn't really support the combo format since they're not accessible if you only have a standard DVD player. Nine deleted scenes (totaling 19m:23s) are provided with brief intros by Scorsese. These are mostly little character bits that were just as well deleted for pacing purposes, but they're still interesting to see.
Stranger Than Fiction (21m:06s) examines the true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, and his stranglehold on South Boston, running a reign of terror while also being an FBI informant. Still on the loose (No. 2 on the FBI's Most Wanted list), he's an intriguing character some of whose characteristics were adopted for Costello in the feature. Crossing Criminal Cultures is an examination of Scorsese and the mobster film (24m:02s) that contains numerous clips from influential films, and also points out some subtle references to Scarface (1932) in The Departed.
None of the extras are in HD, and most of them aren't even in anamorphic widescreen. The documentaries are not subtitled. The combo has all of the extras from the standard DVD special edition except for the 85-minute documentary on Scorsese.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsScorsese takes on the Irish mob in this grimly unforgettable tale of deception, violence and brutality that features some terrific lead performances. The HD transfer is somewhat soft and lacking in detail.
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