William Monahan’s screenplay retains the basic architecture, and several bits of business, from the original, pepping it up with snappy macho banter, including some of the most gloriously expressive swearing this side of David Mamet; senior officers Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg spark off each other like an obscene double act. But it’s somewhat distended; it’s two decades since Scorsese made a feature less than two hours long, and he shows no sign of belt-tightening. The simple, mathematical tragedy of ‘Infernal Affairs’ is mussed by extra layers of hierarchy on both sides and a frustratingly over-seasoned climax.
The casting, however, is quite a coup. There’s still something boyish about both Damon and DiCaprio, and both do best as characters who play make-believe but get lost in the game (see ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ and ‘Catch Me If You Can’). Here they approach their impostors from different ends of the spectrum: DiCaprio’s Costigan starts out an agitated loner and gets more tightly wound, while Damon makes Sullivan cocky, relaxed, one of the guys. For a truly laidback performance, though, look no further than Nicholson. ‘I don’t wanna be a product of my envi-o-ment, I want my envi-o-ment to be a product of me,’ his opening voice-over drawls – and boy, does he get it. He’s every inch the big cat in his dotage, pulling rat-faces and pratfalls in a bar, grandstanding in a porn theatre. The man’s a movie star and it’s a ridiculously enjoyable spectacle, but it feels more like Jack holding court on Oscar night than a crime lord about his work.
You wonder if ‘The Departed’ may have been more fun to make than to watch; at any rate, its pleasures lie in the way it permits us membership of the gang – not that homophobic ribaldry and gags with severed hands are everyone’s idea of fun. There’s a hint of self-pastiche on Scorsese’s part, a suspicion that he’s appealing to past successes. But few directors can compose a movie with the power, grace and assurance that Scorsese brings to each shot and scene, and ‘The Departed’ is more fun, and certainly more funny, than his last few films. Probe it for more than back-slapping entertainment, however, and you might start to smell a rat.