“In a film with a wealth of strong actors — including Jack Nicholson as the crime boss and Matt Damon as a policeman in his pocket — there is scarcely a weak link (well, a couple of over-the-top Nicholson moments). But no one is better in The Departed than Leonardo DiCaprio,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Caryn James in Sunday’s edition. “His role is central, and the film would collapse without him.
“His character, Billy Costigan, is a smart guy who has to infiltrate a crime ring and act a little less smart in his undercover guise. He erupts in sudden violence, and his cropped hair minimizes DiCaprio’s movie-star glamour. But the performance goes deeper than those external clues. He shows in his eyes the undercover agent’s fear and revulsion, a fear he has to reveal to the camera yet conceal from the mobsters in the room. We see the difference between that fear and the confusion he sometimes displays in his role as the mob’s newest member, full of braggadocio. And we see how he is torn by stress almost, but not quite, to the breaking point.
DiCaprio has “mastered an art that looks simple on screen but is immensely sophisticated: he is often best when playing devious characters who are themselves playing roles, letting us see the layers behind the facade of the con man or the undercover cop. The Departed is his most substantial take on that kind of slippery character.”