Scorsese did not see Infernal Affairs before finishing The Departed; he'd only read the script by Bill Monahan (this and lots of other good tidbits from this interview with Thelma Schoonmaker). As voracious a film buff as he is, I just assumed he'd seen the original, but this makes much more sense to me. Scorsese has never seemed like the type who'd want to remake anything (he did Cape Fear mainly because De Niro pushed him so hard for so long to do it).
Scorsese had to fight to keep the script's conclusion; can you imagine if The Departed was given a Hollywood happy ending? Instead, it has a Scorsese happy ending, one I didn't expect.
After Goodfellas, this seems to be the most well-received, broad appeal Scorsese movie ever. I saw it a few weeks ago now, I can't remember when exactly, but it was odd to see so many young people in the theater for a Scorsese movie. Was it the casting of Matt Damon and Leonardo Dicaprio?
Whoever had to choose how to cast Damon and Dicaprio chose well. It's hard to imagine the movie working as well if they'd played each others parts. Jack Nicholson nearly goes too big with his Frank Costello; at times he almost hijacks the movie the way he did Batman, but how can you begrudge Jack his fun, or Scorsese for making something that feels a bit like a genre pic? If it were a statement to the Academy from Scorsese, this movie might say, "Oh, you just want a fun crime pic? I can turn that out, no problem. See?"
Infernal Affairs had that HK, Tony Leung/Anthony Wong/Eric Tsang cool. The Departed has a manic energy that emanates from Scorsese, the cast, and the new setting. It's not a remake as much as an alternative vision built on that same, wonderful script idea: cat and mouse game between an undercover cop and an undercover mobster who've taken each other's jobs. The Departed shouldn't offend any fans of the original; it may offend some Scorsese purists. It won't force Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or Goodfellas out of the way in the hearts of Scorsese devotees (me: guilty); it doesn't have the psychological heft of those movies.
That same restless camera is here, but many of the moves feel as if they're intended to be sexy (and they are) rather than revealing. Perhaps because of that, occasional continuity problems caught my attention in this movie more than in other Scorsese movies (he's always assembled scenes from such a complex mixture of shots that some continuity jaggedness is to be expected, but his shots are so interesting and the rhythm so swift that those issues never even register on the brain).
We had to watch Goodfellas in a class the other week, and so both movies sat next to each other in my brain. That's a tough comparison for not just The Departed but for any movie, like trying to see which of your selves can stay out later on a Friday night, your 23 year old self or your 32 year old self. But now that most my waking hours are occupied struggling to see my own ideas survive the long, sometimes grueling journey to celluloid, my heart is on the side of the filmmaker. Writing a book, composing a song, making a movie, or critiquing one of those pieces of work...one of those is much easier than the other three. If you're not sure which, count the number of people in the world who do each of those well.
Footnote: I've seen Goodfellas probably about 6 times now. We watched a film print in class in the school theater a week or so ago, and it had been a year and a half since I watched it for my editing class in NYC. I had a lot of schoolwork last week, and I told myself I'd just sit down and watch the beginning before heading home to finish a bunch of work. As soon as the opening credits appeared on screen, zipping from left to right, I was done for. That movie is like heroin. It doesn't let go until the end credits, and though many people refer to DVDs as film school in a box, that movie really does show you another few cards up its sleeve every time.