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Movie Review: The Departed

The Departed
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by William Monahan based on the screenplay Wu jian dao (Infernal Affairs) by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong
Warner Bros.

I’ve since watched this movie twice, and I liked it a lot better than this review would have you believe (but I still stand by many of my remarks).  The Departed has just beaten out Stephen Frears’ The Queen, Alfonso Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel, Jonathan and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine, and Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima.  Scorsese finally won Best Director as well. 

Scorsese returns to his Mean Streets and Goodfellas territory, this time in Boston in the remake of the Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. Nope, I’ve not seen the movie everyone raved about a couple of years ago, but that’s not a bad thing when going into a remake. For a brief instance, I thought Scorsese had completely returned to his old Goodfellas days when this movie began in that classic style, in tandem with that unmistakable Thelma Schoonmaker editing and The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” But alas, the movie isn’t nearly a kick as that even though it is at times brilliant.

Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has been living his life with an Irish gangster named Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) as a father figure. As he grows up, he learns the twisted hard facts of life, eventually becomes a cop that shoots through the system into an elite investigation unit, and becomes an important mole inside the force that helps Costello avoid the cops. Going through the academy at the same time is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) but he’s not looked upon favorably by the powers-that-be in Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and recently promoted staff sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg)–citing that he’s “too smart” to be a cop and that his family is a bunch of convicts.

But considering that nailing Costello has been difficult, they have a special undercover job for him so he can build a case against Costello and possibly find the mole everyone suspects is working under their noses. Of course, for every potential Big Crime that Costigan can blow the whistle on, Sullivan warns Costello of the danger before anything can happen. Meanwhile, subplotted into all this is cop psychogist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) who falls for Sullivan and when things start getting a little shaky, Costigan as well.

What we have is a sort of cat and mouse game where both parties take turns being one or the other, trying to find out each other’s identities, and this can be exciting–in fact, much of it is exciting. But there’s about thirty minutes too much film in this. I think Goodfellas is the same length and it blows by as Scorsese’s camera and Schoonmaker’s cutting combine in that great-sex rhythm they establish. Here, after the beginning, the movie is told very conventionally, with brief flashes of Scorsese’s ability occasionally glimmering through.

What saves it from being mediocre is that it has a solid story to it, and towards the end it picks up into that whirlwind of surprises where we don’t see a lot of the events coming. Scorsese’s brutal violence hasn’t been knocked out of him–you feel every gunshot.

Performances–Mark Wahlberg gives his best performance ever as they give him meaty asshole dialogue. I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely buy the rough-and-tough DiCaprio even though he’s very good here and he’s shaken a lot of that teen-idol image. Damon is his usual solid self even though he’s never going to be a guy who transforms into a role or probably ever find a role demanding that of him. Alec Baldwin has turned into a sort of Christopher Walken where we expect some sort of funny jerk, and he does it well especially when he exclaims in anti-Baldwin philosophy, “Patriot Act! I love it!”

Which brings me to Jack Nicholson. Nicholson will always be beloved, no matter what, and he does his usual sincere job here. But I wonder if Nicholson has sort of become a caricature as well–yeah, he’s good, but I wonder if he even has to try anymore. I haven’t seen Nicholson completely different since The Pledge, where he seemed to be working on his character and absorbing himself into a role. Jack can be Jack and get away with it for most of the audience, but don’t expect his teaming with Scorsese makes him incredible here.

Overall, it’s a good time at the movies, if not incredible. Is that bad of me to expect more?

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