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Departed, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 10/06/06 14:02:34

"Will Somebody Please Give These People Some Oscars?"
5 stars (Awesome)

Once in a great while a film comes along that just oozes the kind of life blood that moviegoers can be re-energized with. Like junkies we perk out of our perpetual shakes craving the next fix from any of the great directors who have earned their keep and rarely fail to deliver something of at least the bare minimum of quality. Martin Scorsese is one of those directors. Recently caught up in the mediaís obsession to finally get one of the greatest filmmakers (living or dead) an Oscar, Scorseseís flawed Gangs of New York (thanks to studio interference) and near greatness with The PG-13 Aviator were just a couple degrees off the dial of what old school Martin-ites hoped for. But when you hear those first bars of Gimme Shelter pepper the opening frames of The Departed followed by Jack Nicholsonís shadow-basked introduction and 19-minute pre-title prologue, Heaven has come calling for moviegoers to experience the purest, toughest and most unabashed Scorsese film since GoodFellas.

Nicholsonís Frank Costello is the man who can walk anywhere in Boston and inspire fear, even in the local clergy. As a young man, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) was taken under his wing, (the result of respect for his father) and would grow up to rise in the ranks of the state police. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) also came from money (the legitimate kind) but he rejected the family members who left his dying mother behind and also signed up for the Academy. This angry, rebellious streak is not lost on the superiors who snatch him up for a special assignment. Soft-spoken Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and insult-laden, Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) recognize Costiganís own neighborhood connections to Costello and assign him to take an identity-erasing mission to infiltrate his gang.

Even with their own Donnie Brasco uneasily gaining the trust of their mark, Costelloís success is ensured by Sullivanís tipoffs. Their failed efforts to take the crime boss on any number of major scores lead Sullivanís boss, Ellerby (Alec Baldwin), and others within the department to smell a rat within their own ranks. With Queenanís office failing to provide details of their operations or their operators, Costiganís identity is safe for the time being. But Sullivanís leaks make Costello increasingly paranoid about his crew and Costigan further spiraling towards the madness that his death may be imminent and all for naught.

If the cast list isnít enough already to get you out to see this film, bear in mind I havenít even mentioned Ray Winstone as Costelloís right-hand man, Vera Farmiga as the police psychiatrist charmed by Sullivan and challenged by Costigan, and Anthony Anderson as an Academy mate of Costigan now working alongside Sullivan. Without their presence, The Departed would still be a symphony of tough-guy speak and enriched plotting thanks to William Monahanís adaptation of the well-respected 2002 Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs (which inspired two sequels), but an extension of its inner turmoil and set pieces.

Fans of the original will slowly begin to recognize little touches Scorsese transfers over including DiCaprioís cast, the theater meeting and the training montage including his beloved gun firing into the camera. Much of the filmís extension comes in fleshing out the opening act and giving all its turns time to breathe towards its explosive conclusion. Where those familiar with those turns are going to bask in Scorseseís work are in the ways the raids and chases are delivered with such an authoritative tension allowed by Monahanís excavation of his three leadís psyches. We are so ensconced in the careful moves by Costigan and Sullivan to conceal their identities (while desperately trying to discover them) that it doesnít take any fancy editing or tricks in key scenes where their encounters desperately cannot allow either of them to see the otherís face or hear the otherís voice. Lengthening the film by more than 45 minutes, The Departed remains quite faithful to the events of the original (and if you havenít seen it, wait), but Scorsese adds some precious nods including making one of Costelloís deals with an Asian gang and the kind of doublecrossiní blood-spraying gunplay that requires you to keep your blink quotient at a minimum.

Nicholsonís career in many ways has been recognized by the public through his villainous turns. Jack Torrance (The Shining), Daryl Van Horne (The Witches of Eastwick), The Joker (Batman) and Col. Nathan Jessup (A Few Good Men) are just a smattering of a 50-year career that has produced 12 Oscar nominations and three statuettes. His work in The Departed puts ďyou canít handle the truthĒ to a shame, inspiring an overture to villainy the same way Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter did with their first appearances and melding a brand of brains, impudence, psychosis and unpredictability to where you might be the next victim. How has it taken this long to get Nicholson and Scorsese together and how long will it take to declare their first collaboration with landmark status?

As much of a centerpiece performance as Nicholsonís is, he is equaled with just about everyone in front and behind him in the credits. DiCaprioís role is a difficult one, as his increased hysteria and baggage make him a rather angry and unpleasant individual to be around. And yet we empathize and fear for him as heís forced into this service just wanting to make a difference and coming out the other end with no one knowing who he is. Itís the kind of dangerous, charismatic performance that may officially put him into Brandoís territory. Damonís role is equally as difficult as the well-scrubbed and charming guy also trying to do some good, but has a loyalty to his benefactor that leads to some rather despicable decisions. Itís a credit to both actors that we are thrust into situations where we want to see them both succeed. Also thriving is Mark Wahlberg with a fiery, unblinking turn that (Huckabees aside) is his best work since Boogie Nights and testament that actors turn it up a notch for Scorsese. And if The Departed wasnít already filled with award-level performances, Alec Baldwinís scenes as kind of the looser flipside of Glengarryís taskmaster would be getting serious attention.

There is so much to love and to praise about The Departed that it transcends such crude labels as just ďthe next great crime film.Ē Itís procedural and suspense-laden, cross-generational and cross-continental, twist-filled and still a thrice-character study. Moreso than even Infernal Affairs, its practically a modern redux of his own Gangs of New York with DiCaprio infiltrating the villainous gang lord who respected his father but contiguous with a Patriot Act view of America where technology is all for naught if the humans behind them arenít communicating for the common victory. Who can be trusted anymore? How much damage is capable of being done while those enforcing the law wait for the big score? How many sleeper cells are liable to pop up in the meantime even after you get the man in charge? Those are towering questions which supercede the fear that Scorsese may lose out another Oscar to an actor-turned-director. But he absolutely deserves to win.

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