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The Departed

The Contenders

Release: Oct. 6

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Oscar Alums: Jack Nicholson (actor, “As Good as It Gets,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”; supporting actor, “Terms of Endearment”), Matt Damon (screenplay, “Good Will Hunting”), Howard Shore (score, “LOTR: Return of the King,” “LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring,” song, “LOTR: Return of the King”), Thelma Schoonmaker (editing, “The Aviator,” “Raging Bull”), Sandy Powell (costume design, “The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”), John Caglione Jr. (makeup, “Dick Tracy”), Robert Legato (visual effects, “Titanic”)

There’s something to be said for the sheer ambition of Martin Scorsese’s last few epics, from his visionary street-brawl saga “Gangs of New York” to the sprawling Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” and yet “The Departed” proves a far better showcase for the director’s abilities.

Scorsese is a natural with the crime drama, so it’s no surprise that he could take a high-concept Hong Kong thriller like “Infernal Affairs” and turn it into a blood-soaked, white-knuckle suspenser that’s every bit as profound as it is entertaining.

In an Oscar race filled with studio-hyped message movies, “The Departed” rose on its own merits. Critics embraced it while audiences have made “The Departed” the director’s all-time top-performing pic at the box office.

That success no doubt depends in large part on its all-star cast, who deliver first-rate performances across the board.

Given the pic’s ensemble nature, Warner has decided to enter everyone in the supporting category. Considering the number of deserving male perfs, “The Departed” could fill the category on its own.

In Leonardo DiCaprio’s case, his scruffy character finally allows the actor a chance to shatter the pretty-boy curse that’s dogged his grown-up career. Too bad he’s counting on “Blood Diamond” to earn a shot in the lead actor race, because this is really the performance of his career.

Matt Damon is equally impressive as DiCaprio’s dirty-cop counterpart, while Jack Nicholson seems to have modeled his mentally deteriorating crime boss on a runaway version of his own star persona.

Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen make precious use of their limited screen time.

There’s a strong buzz surrounding William Monahan’s screenplay, which he adapted from a translation of the Chinese original. His “Deadwood”-sharp dialogue and Shakespearean sense of tragedy make “The Departed” the first modern East-West adaptation to so completely transcend the original material.

Longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus are operating in full service of the film here, elegantly alternating between the movie’s many threads.

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