Categories: Movie Reviews
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Published on: 2006.10.09


My wife and I went to see “The Departed” Sunday night, and were pleasantly surprised. We knew it wouldn’t totally bomb, because you don’t find actors like Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Leonardo DiCaprio making really horrible movies lately.

And director Martin Scorsece has a habit of making decent (if you don’t mind the understatement) movies — like The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Bringing out the Dead, Cape Fear, Goodfellas, The Color of Money, Ragin Bull, and Taxi Driver.

If you ask me, this one tops them all. It tops Goodfellas? Yeah. It really does. I mean, I liked Goodfellas, and I thought it gave a pretty good feel for what it must be like to be in that kind of organization. But it was disjointed. It covered too much time. And it was too filled with the stupidity of Joe Pesci’s character (“Tommy DeVito”). You kept wanting to slap him and tell him to just think before he did his next stupid thing. It was almost unreal how stupid that guy was, and how long he survived.

But in “The Departed,” there was very little that was irritating, at least not like Joe Pesci. (Please, Joe, don’t kill me. Think about it first!)

If you’re a panty-waist, and have never hung out on the rough side of town, you’re likely to be offended by the language in the movie. I say it’s your loss if you can’t enjoy the reality of the film because of that hang-up. It’s the way these people talk. And, there’s some surprising violence in the movie, especially near the end (I won’t spoil the ending for you).

Okay, my warnings out of the way, here’s what happens (remember, I’m NOT going to spoil the ending):

Nicholson plays Frank Costello, a man who appears to be a small-time criminal at first, but turns out to be a major target of the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police. (IMDB calls it the “Boston State Police,” but never mentions when Boston became a state. In the movie, it’s the Massachusetts State Police.) Back to the point, Nicholson plays one of the best roles of his career as Costello, a brutal man in a brutal business. I’m not saying the character is a good, or even likable, person. But Nicholson shines like he hasn’t shined since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Like one reviewer said, “Nicholson’s nuanced acting was so on-point that at times I felt like I was actually about to be shot by the slimy capo.” You never thought it was Nicholson. You never thought it was somebody playing a bad guy. You just knew it was a really bad guy.

Damon is Colin Sullivan, a boy that Costello helped out when he was younger. Sullivan grew up and entered the State Police academy, graduated, and moved up quickly in the detective unit. He ends up tipping off Costello to various investigations, but manages to keep his activities unknown to the other troopers.

DiCaprio is Billy Costigan, a troubled young man who becomes a trooper on his own, and is sent into deep cover inside Costello’s organization, reporting back to the state police.

With Costigan and Sullivan reporting back and forth, neither Costello nor the police seem to gain any ground. Each is always a step ahead of the other, yet also a step behind. The movie does a great job in shifting back and forth between them.

DiCaprio’s character is troubled, tense, dark and brooding, though he’s technically the “good guy” that we all hate. Damon’s character is confident, polished, and slick, the ‘bad guy” that we all love.

With Sheen stepping in as the head of the state police’s detective unit, and Alec Baldwin aptly playing the FBI liaison, the movie packs plenty of punch.

But, like many organized crime movies, there aren’t any well-known female actors in the film. Vera Farmiga is the only woman in the roster, playing the police psycholigist who becomes Sullivan’s live-in girlfriend (and Costigan’s one-time lover and part-time friend). It’s just not a world that women are a part of, at least not to the degree that you’d want to pull in a big-name actress for it.

Perhaps this is an unintended statement about society — women are either too smart, or not greedy enough (or both), to get involved in high crime, or to fight high crime.

Unintrusive camera-work helps the film too. You’re never distracted by strange camera angles or odd effects on the lens. The camera is merely the media that tells the story, and you don’t even notice that you’re in a theater. For all you know, you’re in Boston, in the very thick of things.

I can say that I didn’t really notice the music either, which is the way it should be. If the soundtrack is noticeable, then you should have just bought the soundtrack. The music is supposed to give the movie texture and mood, but nothing else. In this film, it was perfect and subtle. None of the sound effects were overblown or distracting either, giving the story an air of reality and grit.

If I have a regret about the film, I would say that Wahlberg should have had a larger role. (His brother Robert’s in the film too). Mark Wahlberg has turned into a quality actor, and he proves it during his time on screen in The Departed. At first, you get the feeling he’s overdoing it, but then you remember that in real life, some people are exactly like that.

The Departed is funny. It’s sad. But it’s also gory, sexy, gritty, powerful, intriguing, exciting, and… well it seems REAL.

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