"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me," Jack Nicholson intones at the beginning of The Departed. "No one gives it to you. You have to take it." In theory, he's talking about the rise of the Irish in America generally and Boston in particular; in practice, he's talking about himself, offering up a "My Way"-like tribute to his own success.
And whether or not anyone intended to give it to him, Nicholson does indeed take The Departed. A remake of the sleek, superb 2002 Hong Kong police thriller Infernal Affairs, the movie has been Nicholsonized across the board, becoming fatter, coarser, and more self-indulgent than the original. The credit is not Jack's exclusively, but is shared by Martin Scorsese--who, for his troubles, is a favorite to take home his first Best Director award at the Oscars this coming weekend. If he does in fact win, it'll be a tad ridiculous. Because not only is The Departed not among the best of Scorsese's films; it's not even the best version of this film.
Infernal Affairs (which I reviewed here) and The Departed both tell a tale of twinned pretenders: an undercover policeman who has infiltrated the mob (Tony Leung in the former; Leonardo DiCaprio in the latter) and a mobster working as a mole within the police department (Andy Lau and Matt Damon, respectively). Each of them answers to an apparent boss and a secret one, and these bosses are the same two men (though with roles reversed): a likable police chief (Anthony Wong, Martin Sheen) and a villainous kingpin (Eric Tsang, Nicholson). The symmetry of the plot is contrived but cunning, and both films have the good sense to play it straight, without a lot of windy philosophizing about the neatly balanced deceptions or the nature of identity.