Martin Scorsese's made a bunch of important movies. Movies that changed things, that define American cinema: Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. The Last Temptation of Christ. Goodfellas. The music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad." So even though it's pretty goddamn great, Scorsese's latest, The Departed, can't live up to the expectations his IMDB page inspires. But while The Departed is nothing revolutionary, it is one hell of a genre film—smart and forceful and fun.
In fact, The Departed is flat-out unoriginal—it's a remake of 2002's intense Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Scorsese's moved Infernal Affairs' inspired premise to Boston, where Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), fresh out of the police academy, goes undercover with crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Meanwhile, Costello has planted his own man, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) inside the police department. So while Costigan keeps the cops one step ahead of Costello, Sullivan keeps Costello one step ahead of the cops—and with every bust and deal that goes down, Costigan and Sullivan find themselves playing the same dangerous game.
Their inevitable confrontation comes, yeah, but Scorsese has more fun getting there, testing the clichés and pushing the boundaries of the cop thriller genre. Along the way, he gets great performances out of his cast, especially DiCaprio and Damon. (Surprisingly, the only actor who's less than great is Nicholson, who occasionally clowns like he's still playing the Joker. But a few goofy Nicholson-isms and an unfortunate closing shot are the only problems in The Departed, and they're minor.) There are solid supporting characters (Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Marky Mark all play to their strengths), there're shootouts, there's sex and subterfuge and fists and blood and panic, all while the Rolling Stones and the Dropkick Murphys blare over the soundtrack. And then there's the unpredictable, clever, and sharp Scorsese, as if The Aviator and Gangs of New York never happened, showing that even when he's adapting somebody else's movie, he's still one of the best filmmakers we've got.