It's a biographical legend that's rooted in fact: When Martin Scorsese was a child, he wasn't in the best of health ... so he went to the movies a lot, and he saw everything. It's easy to believe -- just watch Scorsese's documentaries on American and Italian cinema and you can witness a well-rounded, genre-spanning love of film in action. But if you watched everything, you probably saw a lot of bad movies -- or, worse, indifferent ones. I'd bet that Scorsese, in his youth, saw a thousand B-movie cop-and-crook films with only one or two glimmerings of style in their entire running time -- a camera shot that stood out, a bitterly-spat line, a relationship that twists like a knife in your hand. And he's turned those crime films -- indeed, he's turned every crime film -- into a hard-boiled, fast-paced, brutish and brooding action thriller, The Departed.
And the irony is that as much as The Departed includes nods to all crime cinema, it's a remake of one specific film -- the Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs. The pitch, which crossed the ocean intact, is simple and yet diabolical: The police have a man undercover in the organization of the local crimelord. The local crimelord, being a man of vision and long-term thinking, has a man undercover in the police. Each organization is aware that there's a leak, somewhere, somehow. The two men undercover are aware that they have to find their opposite number before they themselves are found out. The police and crooks each have intelligence from the other, but using it might expose their source. In terms of construction, The Departed's not terribly complicated; neither is a hammer, but you can swing it pretty hard if you know what you're doing.