The Departed

The Departed (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin
Extras: 2 Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Martin Scorsese's genius and talent explodes in this rip-bang, return-to-gangster form of a film that easily deserved the big dog Oscars heaped on its plate at the end of February. I remember my first viewings of 'Raging Bull, ' 'Casino,' and 'Goodfellas' as if they were yesterday and I was ecstatic to get the same jolt from 'The Departed.'

Based on the hit Hong Kong actioner 'Infernal Affairs,' Scorsese weaves a tale of Boston cops and criminals that stays faithful to its source material without ever letting on to the fact that it has one. The core of the film focuses on Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, two moles in their respective organizations. Damon is a criminal tucked cleverly in the police force and DiCaprio is an officer hidden deep within the Boston mafia. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse that plays out realistically and with resonance.

The performances are easily the best of last year in my opinion and even the supporting cast steps up with a fury. DiCaprio and Damon are expertly complex and layered, slowly revealing more of their twisted and tattered personalities as the film progresses. Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Mark Wahlberg in particular are fascinatingly funny and effective in their individual roles. Jack Nicholson plays the crime lord of the tale and has a blast dropping into a role reminiscent of his darkly hilarious spin on the Joker. The best part of the film is how it expands the shorter Chinese version and elevates it to an epic status that broadens the movie's world and fills the characters with depth and dimension.

The cinematography is gritty and gorgeous, at times even rich and lush with vibrant colors and textures that splash across the screen. The script is a top-tier example of the way every screenplay greenlit in Hollywood should function — the dialogue is superb and shot out in rapid bursts, the plotting is well paced and balances numerous threads, and the tone is stark without pushing the audience out of their immersion in the film. All in all, there's little wrong with the movie and I can't recommend this one enough. This should be in everyone's collection and it definitely has a trumped position on my high-def shelf.

Brought to life in 1080p utilizing the VC-1 codec, this HD DVD combo disc is visually identical to its Blu-ray counterpart in a side by side comparison. The recent print makes for a wonderful transfer and color, contrast, and shadow details are all easily reference quality. The film retains its slightly grainy edge and really adds well roundedness to the picture with deep blacks, fine object sharpness, and skin and clothing textures. Especially impressive are the nighttime scenes, of which there are many. The subdued afternoon palette stands aside for the neon pulse that comes with city life after dark. Each scene felt wonderfully real, as if you could reach out and touch anything at any given time. I was considerably impressed with this transfer at every turn.

While the Blu-ray edition comes with an uncompressed PCM track, this HD DVD version comes with an astounding soundfield produced within a Dolby TrueHD lossless 5.1 surround track.. Between the two, I could hardly tell the difference and I found both to be, again, reference quality in every aspect. Deep bass booms, deafening gunfire, crisp dialogue, and a full soundscape that used every channel to its advantage. The sound mix is surprisingly dialogue driven and there's very little in the way of ambient noise to fill out the illusion of a living world. However, sound prioritization is handled perfectly and creates the feeling of being in Boston at nearly every turn. Channel movement is subtle and superb, directional accuracy is spot on, and effects never trend toward clangy treble pitches or dulling subwoofer exclusives. Sounds and words and spread throughout the soundscape and your home theater space becomes a breathing world of convincing audible effects.

Unfortunately, the one downside of this release is a paired down set of still appreciated features that is sorely missing commentaries from Scorsese and his excellent cast. It's sad because it's the sort of release that you know will come in a superior, anniversary edition in the near future and I hate having to purchase a film more than once.

However, don't think for a second that this release is a barebones, movie-only edition of the film. An exceptional collection of deleted scenes that are worth the time leads the charge and a handful of featurettes totaling an hour of mini-doc material examines Scorsese's canon of work, the original Chinese masterpiece, and the real life crime of Boston's underworld. Rounding out the average package is a trailer for the film – the sole supplement that comes in 1080p. While it's not nearly everything you would hope for, it is sufficient since it means I can own one of my favorite films of 2006 now instead of waiting for the inevitable edition that will be packed to the nines.

All in all, 'The Departed' is a film that shouldn't be missed. Use your experience with Scorsese's other crime pictures to determine your likely love of this one… but relax with the knowledge that it is its own individual beast of originality and flair. If you haven't enjoyed his tangential departure from material like 'Casino' or 'Goodfellas,' you'll be jumping around the room with 'The Departed' no matter which high-def edition you pick up.