09 October 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Departed"

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Departed"
October 09, 2006 03:20 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

Any film starring Jack Nicholson will always deserve a screening and The Departed is no exception. Even at 69 years old, Nicholson is the most interesting character in this film, and any scene he's in is absorbing and often uncomfortable. In The Departed Nicholson plays Frank Costello, a violently out-of-control nasty womanizing drug-loving South Boston Irish gangland leader who's mouth is as dirty as the weird wardrobe he clothes himself in.

The film opens with a younger Costello playing up to a young boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon - whose acting skills still leave much to be desired), and the audience is well aware that Costello has big plans for Sullivan's future. Costello becomes a father figure to Sullivan who grows up to infiltrate the Boston police department and rises to be the leader of the Special Investigation Unit, which is ultimately tasked with finally making an arrest of Costello. True to his superior and devious mind, Costello has prepared well for this eventuality, as the adult Sullivan calls Costello Dad. Playing his doppelganger on the opposite side is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young undercover Massachusetts State Policeman, who is sent under deep cover to become a member of Costello's gang. Each man becomes consumed with the impossibilities of dealing with their hidden double lives and soon they are running for their lives as both the mob boss and the cops realize they both have a mole in their midst. The ticking clock keeps time as each character tries to outrun being uncovered as a mole by the other. Complicating things is a thoughtful performance by the wonderful Vera Farmiga, who's work this reviewer has loved ever since she first co-starred in the short-lived sword and sorcery 1997 TV series Roar. Farmiga's time to shine as a leading actress has hopefully come. Though Farmiga is great, she is the only female in this male-monk cast, and the love triangle between her and Sullivan and Costigan feels a bit too contrived to really work - a common problem with male-monk films, the female role is added to improve cut-away choices for the editor, rather than to help the script move forward.

Steeped in testosterone and sweetened with a big measure of profanity and nastiness, The Departed is full of violence, anger, gore, and blood, and tons of actors who look alarmingly alike in many scenes. One standout performance that might garner attention is Mark Wahlberg's (as good cop Sgt. Dignam), who displays the most authentic Southie accent of this bunch and some of the best acting moments of this film. DiCaprio finally plays a real grown-up man for the first time in a film and doesn't do too badly, though he still feels a bit too lightweight to fully carry a film as a leading man. Perhaps that is why films he stars in as the sole leading man have faired so poorly in the critic's – and the public's – eyes. It's hard to understand DiCaprio's appeal to the masses as he often plays inadequate man-child roles and is his acting is most often sub-par.

Nicholson is over-the-top in many scenes, but isn't that what the audience has come to accept from him? He has some of the best lines and most violent scenes… and he must have had a ball playing Costello. The Costello role was first offered to Robert De Niro who turned it down (perhaps he's tired of playing the same violent mob role he's so famous for?), and Nicholson took it, most likely as a foil for his past few comedic outings.

Director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator) is adored by many great Hong Kong filmmakers, John Woo dedicated The Killer to him, and many Hong Kong films owe Taxi Driver a debt of gratitude for their slo-mo urban filmic styles, and here Scorsese returns the favor as he remakes this Hong Kong hit trilogy. A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong hit film Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs, which was so well received it went on to become a trilogy), The Departed does best when it sticks closer to it's original story, there are too many confusing and unnecessary scenes added in this version, and that's why this film clocks in at a full 48 minutes longer than the original.

As in most of Scorsese's films the music here is used to move the story along and many rock classics, as well as an interesting and appropriate score, are fully enjoyable. Exciting and fast-paced editing, typical of Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, make the first 1.5 hours of this film great fun, but it bogs down in the last unnecessary hour, and the film slows way down.

Problems with this script abound as many plot points are left out, cheated, or completely unexplainable. In the end, a triple undercover mole that had nary a speaking line ends up as another secret mole that completes the picture. It's really too bad that Screenwriter William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) felt it necessary to resort to such unprofessional tricks to make his screenplay work. What's surprising is that a director of the caliber of Scorsese didn't protest the obvious plot holes. In the end, it appears that so many undercover cops and FBI agents were in Costello's gang – and on the police force – that without them both the bad and the good guys would have consisted of just a few men… the bad represented by Costello and his right-hand nut-job Mr. French (the marvelous English character actor Ray Winstone, who was the sexy beast in Sexy Beast), and the good by the various cops. Regarding possible nominations, as one of the many producer's, Graham King, said, "This film was made for commerce" not for awards. Remember that when you go see it.


Digital Dogs rating: A-

MPAA rating: Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material.

Running Time: 149 minutes

Producers Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Graham King, Michael Aguilar, Rick Schwartz, Joseph P. Reidy, Director Martin Scorsese, Screenplay William Monahan, Music Howard Shore, Editor Thelma Schoonmaker, DP Michael BallhausActors Leornardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Marl Walberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone

© Digital Dogs



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