Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: William Monahan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston, David Patrick O’Hara, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, J.C. MacKenzie, Robert Wahlberg.
“When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
Despite Martin Scorsese directing consistently good films since the 1970’s, the well deserved Academy Award always eluded him. He was snubbed for such classics as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” but he finally got his hands on that long-awaited gong for this remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs“.
After graduating from the Boston police academy, cadet Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is put undercover to infiltrate the city’s Irish-American gangland of violent and volatile mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). However, Costello has an ace up his sleeve in Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), another new recruit from the police department who climbs the ladder to lead a task force in bringing Costello down. It’s a front for Sullivan, of course, as his main aim is to leak information back to Costello.
After his Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator” in 2004, and a few other period pieces like “Gangs of New York“, “Kundun” and “The Age of Innocence“, Scorsese makes a welcome return to what he does best – dealing with organised crime and corruption. Along with him, is a top-notch cast and a very enticing and long-awaited collaboration with contemporary actor Jack Nicholson.
Needless to say, there’s no disappointment to be found; Nicholson adds real danger and unpredictability to an already complex film and the type of role that he has outdone himself with in the past. Here, he’s no different and it’s great to see him and Scorsese finally working together. He’s not the only one on good form here though; Scorsese’s usual leading actor DiCaprio is also brilliantly on-edge and channels an intense desperation, proving why he has replaced Robert DeNiro as the great auteurs actor of choice. The rest of the impressively assembled cast; from Matt Damon to Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and the Oscar nominated Mark Wahlberg, are no slouch’s either. It’s a solid ensemble overall but, ultimately, it’s Scorsese’s expertise in this genre that pays dividends. He constructs the cat and mouse, race-against-time, structure with the deftness of a master and adds a real density to, not just time and place, but to the multi-layered character’s while assuredly building at a pace that’s entirely on his own terms. This, in turn, lends to numerous moments of well played tension while maintaining an investment in everyone involved.
The story is labyrinthine, to say the least, and some plot developments may creak under the immense weight but it’s so well delivered that it doesn’t matter. This is arguably Scorsese at his most entertaining since “Goodfellas“.
I’m not normally an advocate for remakes but the when the quality behind, and in front of, the camera are this good, how can I really complain? This is one of the most enjoyable and accessible films in Scorsese’s canon – the only thing missing is Robert DeNiro, but then he has an electric, on-form, Jack Nicholson to make up for that.
Trivia: Originally Brad Pitt was cast as Colin Sullivan, but later dropped out to work with Alejandro González Iñárritu in Babel (2006). He continued to produce the film under his (and his then wife Jennifer Aniston’s) production company, Plan B.