When Martin Scorcese is at the top of his form, few directors can match him. I consider Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Taxi Driver to be three of my favorite movies of all time. I like these three movies for different yet similar reasons. The first is excellent for its willingness to be overwhelmingly brutally honest about its flawed protagonist. The second is as well done a mob movie as you will find this side of Coppola. And the third is a stirring and frightening tale of urban decay and societal alienation. The Departed is most similar to Goodfellas given the obvious mob link, but I feel there is a little bit of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver in this movie.
This movie was very, very good. The last two Scorcese movies had points to recommend. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in Gangs of New York was absolutely fabulous, and The Aviator was compelling if somewhat marred by Leonardo DiCaprio's boyish looks. But I can only encourage you strongly to go see this movie. The cast is first rate. Jack Nicholson as mob boss Frank Costello. Ray Winstone as his righthand man. Dicaprio and Matt Damon as moles in the other's respective organizations (the police and mob). The performances are amazing, particularly Nicholson's raucous gangster and Winston'e vicious killer.
But what makes me so adore this movie is how Scorcese respects the audience. He gives us a ton of information in the movie without blatantly pointing it out or noting it. Scorcese makes it clear with a few hints that one character had alcoholic parents, for example, but never comes right out and says it with a big freaking neon sign like so many directors would.
Scorcese also puts together masterful soundtracks. His classic rock music laid throughout Goodfellas was so right, and on this soundtrack he really outdoes himself. There was a moment in this movie late that was so tense, I could not remember feeling so anxious in a movie theater, and this is in no small measure due to the director's skill at picking the right music at the right time.
If there is any bone I had to pick with this movie, I would say there were a few too many climaxes. The third act is relatively long (but does not extend so far as to cause a popular revolt a la Gangs of New York). There is no one scene that has the punch of the series of dead bodies found to Layla in Goodfellas. But this is a quibble. Go see this movie.