Film Review: The Departed (2006)

Release Date: September 26th, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Based on: Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Corrigan, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg

Media Asia Films, Vertigo Entertainment, Initial Entertainment Group, Plan B Entertainment, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes


“My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark” – Dignam

I probably would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs first. Reason being, this is an American remake of that film and frankly, it’s nowhere near as good but I’ll explain why.

To start, the acting is superb as fuck and really, that should go without saying if you look over the cast list. And really, I think that’s the one part of this film that possibly exceeds the original. DiCaprio is solid. Damon is solid. Nicholson is solid. Frankly, so is everyone else and there isn’t really a weak link in this chain of talent.

I think that for the lesser known actors and those with smaller parts, working with these other legends really helped them rise to the occasion. But some credit for that obviously has to go to Martin Scorsese’s direction. Scorsese, time and time again, always pulls the very best out of his actors from top-to-bottom in every production.

But this doesn’t discredit the acting in the Hong Kong film, which was also top notch and pretty damn close to this one even with the language barrier and having to experience it through subtitles.

One thing I’m not super keen on about this version is that it feels like the least Martin Scorsese film that the man has ever made… or, at least, that I’ve seen. It’s like Scorsese really wanted to replicate the tone and style of the original and while he did a fine job in replicating it, it sort of loses his patented touch. I would’ve rather seen him really take this story and make it his own.

Speaking of the story, I found this harder to follow than its source material. The Hong Kong film developed the characters better, especially the backstories. This movie lacked a lot of the extra context we got in the original between the Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon characters. I think that context was pretty important and maybe those scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

What’s strange is that this movie is a whopping fifty minutes longer… fifty! Yet it feels like it has less story and the story that is present is a bit complicated. I feel like they tried to add extra layers into this where they didn’t need to be. While I don’t remember every detail of Infernal Affairs, as it’s been four years since I’ve seen it, but it did feel more streamlined and focused in spite of all the characters it had to balance.

It may seem like I’m shitting on The Departed but I don’t mean to. It’s just that I found a lot more value in the original.

This is still a damn engaging movie with characters you like, even the bad ones. It mostly moves at a brisk pace and as I’ve already stated, it’s a movie that’s greatly enhanced by its performances.

It was kind of cool seeing guys like DiCaprio, Nicholson and Damon come together in the same picture. It truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime team-up and these guys worked together wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Infernal Affairs (2002)

Also known as: Mou gaan dou, lit. Non-Stop Way (Hong Kong)
Release Date: December 12th, 2002 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Written by: Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Chan Kwong-wing
Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang

Media Asia Films, Basic Pictures, 101 Minutes


Up until recently, I never knew that The Departed was essentially the American remake of this film. I had heard about Infernal Affairs but had never seen it. I also haven’t seen The Departed, so I am glad that I may be one of the few Americans who actually got to see this version of the story first.

Coming out of Hong Kong, this modern crime film certainly isn’t short on action and gun violence. However, all that sort of takes a backseat to the narrative, which is quite a phenomenal tale of a man’s struggle with morality.

The story pits two men against one another. Both men are police officers and criminals. One of them, over the course of the film, has reservations about his criminal behavior and the fact that he is a member of the Triad and was actually sent in to infiltrate the Hong Kong police force. His status as a cop is a secret to even the police force, as only one cop knows his true identity. The other man is also a cop but he isn’t undercover. He is known as a cop and respected as a cop, even though he is also a mole for the Triad. Both men attach themselves to mentors on opposite sides of the coin.

The film plays out like a wonderfully composed game of chess. You never really know which direction each character will turn when push comes to shove and the ending is pretty shocking and breathtaking. Now I am not sure if The Departed shares the same ending or not. But the turn of events might not be that surprising to those who have seen that picture first.

Both characters in the film feel isolated, despite their relationships with other people and their connection to their mentors on opposite sides of the law. A lot of this is magnified by the mise en scène of the picture, as it does a great job isolating the characters on rooftops overlooking a massive world around them. The Hong Kong backdrop also showcases the modern world and the natural beauty of the old world in a lot of the same shots. The conflict of the characters against one another and against themselves is magnified by this. It is also further explored in the state of Hong Kong at the time: it being a city that just came out from under colonialism and is searching for its own independent identity.

Infernal Affairs also challenges the formula and tropes of Hong Kong cinema, as it criticizes more traditional films within the film and has a few in-jokes about cops meeting on rooftops and whatnot. It is a film that is strong in its Hong Kong roots while being heavily influenced by American cinema. It’s as if it is trying to show that it can hang with the international market and that it isn’t just another Hong Kong crime film. It feels heavily influenced by the Triad movies of John Woo while also embracing the narrative style of American mobster pictures, most notably those from Martin Scorsese. Oddly enough, it was Scorsese who made The Departed.

This is an exceptional picture, highlighted by the stupendous performances of the two leads Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Marvelously shot and directed with a strong score and beautiful cinematography that encompasses quite a large scope, Infernal Affairs is a damn good film. It is certainly one of the greatest motion pictures to ever come out of Hong Kong.

Rating: 10/10