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The Departed - Over-the-top vulgarity mars latest Scorsese crime epic

By: Mark Moorehead

Oct. 7, 2006

Director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Mean Streets) returns to the turf of his favorite movie genre, the mobster crime drama. Other than Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy) no one does it better.

In The Departed, Scorsese nails the story, the look, the feel and the all important character development. Toss in enough tension to keep your eyes glued to the screen for two and a half hours and you have a film worth seeing.

Yet, to top it off, Scorsese recruited a star studded cast including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. For most directors thatís overkill. For Scorsese it was an opportunity to whack a lot of big names and still have enough left over to carry the coffins.

Although itís a good script the story is not original.

The Departed is a remake of the hugely popular (i.e. popular in Asia) 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. That title would be considered a satire in this country. Scorsese was wise to change the title and tweak the story.

His version follows the story of two Boston police officers, one of whom is a member of the Irish mafia (Matt Damon), who has infiltrated the ranks of the Massachusetts State Police, and the other is a young state police officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) on an undercover mission to join the Irish mafia.

Fatherless Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) spent his youth working for mob boss and surrogate father Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Heís a smart kid and Costello sends him to the police academy, where he excels. He quickly moves up the ranks within the state police while keeping Costello one chess move ahead of the law.

Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) always has wanted to be a police officer. Except for his recently deceased father, the rest of his family is comprised of petty thieves. Billy sees law enforcement as a means of building his self-esteem, redeeming the family name and becoming part of a larger family he feels proud to belong to.

Ironically, instead of wearing a badge, his superiors, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and foul-mouthed, hothead Sergeant Digham (Mark Wahlberg), send him undercover to infiltrate the Irish mob in the very neighborhood he worked so hard to escape.

Wahlbergís character Sgt. Digham is an example of one of the more glaring downsides of the film, which too often turns into a loud, vulgar insults-fest.

Starting with Digham, the dialogue at the police station is a constant series of spit-in-your face, expletive-laden insults interrupted by an occasional conjunction. Rather than adding authenticity to the scene, the outrageously brutal and irrational tough talk undermines any believability the scene might have had.

Fortunately, the story doesnít linger long anywhere, moving briskly and building tension as knowledge of the existence of the moles is known in both camps. Fear of having their cover blown creates gut-wrenching fear on the part of Sullivan and Costigan as they tap away on their cell phones sending urgent messages to their respective bosses during an illicit transaction between Costelloís gang and Chinese government agents.

Both moles work feverishly to conceal their true identities while at the same time trying to expose the other. This cat-and-mouse competition between the moles drives the action. You know sooner or later one of them will be found out and the consequence will be unpleasant. However, thatís the only thing predictable in The Departed. Detours are everywhere.

Among the twists and turns in the movie, Sullivan is dating a pretty police psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga), who in turn is treating Costigan, who is unable to mask his personal torment. The two moles end up bedding her along parallel time frames with results that may surprise you.

Itís a bit of a stretch considering DiCaprioís character is a morose, emotionally unstable, underpaid and underfed patient of hers, and Damonís character is healthy, handsome, charming, upbeat and prosperous. She eventually tells Costigan that Freud was right, and sex with patients should remain in the realm of the unconscious.

Instead, she moves in with the emotionally barren and shallow Sullivan. What a perfect couple. Unfortunately, truth rears its ugly head, and she discovers the father of her child is working for mobster Frank Costello. It could be worse. He could have only one income.

Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello steals the show when he plays it straight as a gritty, foulmouthed mobster. However, when he executes a few comic bits like waving a dildo in a porn theater or imitating a snarling rat we sigh in collective disappointment. When heís mean heís a scary guy. When he tries to be funny he looks like a silly sideshow act in a carnival.

Those criticisms aside, letís not forget the strong performances by the rest of the cast including Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone. Baldwin plays a police supervisor. His character is preening, blunt and always ready with a glib remark about the mission or life itself. His screen time is brief, but his smiling, arrogant face provides the comic relief. And Winstoneís (Sexy Beast) authentic performance as Costelloís loyal right-hand man balances Nicholsonís eccentricities.

In the end, Scorseseís tale plays out like a tragic morality play. There are no winners. The title of the film says it all.

General Audiences: B

Martin Scorseseís police-crime drama contains non-stop profanity along with sexist, racist and derogatory ethnic dialogue. Not recommended for women, children or anyone living in the Bible belt.

Family Audiences: N/A

Inappropriate for anyone 17 years or younger. Rated R for strong, brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material.


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