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Departed, The

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 10/09/06 12:08:22

"Because nobody else but Scorsese knows how to do gory mayhem correctly."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“The Departed” is not vintage Scorsese, but for most of its running time it sure comes close. With a great cast and an intriguing setup (borrowed from the terrific Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs”), it would be reasonable to expect the veteran director to deliver another masterpiece. Because most American remakes of wonderful foreign movies reek (try sitting through “Vanilla Sky” when you’ve already seen “Abre Los Ojos”), Scorsese’s decision not to follow this tradition is a cause for celebration.

Screenwriter William Monohan (“Kingdom of Heaven”), for the most part, manages to retain the original’s twists and turns and gives the new film a vitality of its own.

In the new film, a veteran Boston mob kingpin named Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) recruits a bright youngster named Colin Sullivan (Matt Daman) to join the Massachusetts State Police Department in order to keep Costello aware of their attempts to foil him.

The cops have ideas of their own. Knowing that Costello has informers in their midst, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his antagonistic Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg, demonstrating heretofore unseen nastiness that’s as mesmerizing as it is novel) recruit a bright cadet named William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and give him a phony history so that he can infiltrate Costello’s mob.

Sullivan and Costigan competing agendas quickly clash. The two know about each other but have no idea what each other looks like or where the other can be located. Monahan does a fine job of keeping the two just close enough to each other to keep the audience hungry for the final showdown.

He also loads the screen with some of the most finely crafted profanity in recent memory. Cursing often indicates a screenwriter needs to broaden his or her vocabulary, but Monahan continually comes up with creative turns of phrase that won’t be heard any time soon in polite conversation. I won’t quote any because they sound far more poetic coming from Jack Nicholson’s tongue than from my finger tips.

Where Monahan and Scorsese come a little short is in setting up a love triangle between the two undercover agents and a therapist (Vera Farmiga, who should have received an Oscar nod for "Down to the Bone") who treats Costigan and is engaged to Sullivan. Monahan and Scorsese seem a bit more proficient at setting up violent raids than they do at setting up love affairs.

It’s easy to see why she’d fall for the slick and seemingly stable Sullivan, but as someone who’s unaware of Costigan’s covert mission, it’s hard to believe she’d see him as anything but a volatile thug. Fortunately, the sadly underrated Farmiga is able to do wonders with a fairly sketchy character.

She also deserves credit for keeping up with her formidable costars. DiCaprio does a fine job of passing himself off as a hoodlum, and his face subtly indicates he knows his assignment has gotten to dangerous to continue.

Damon’s suave turn is a wonderful counterpoint. He reminds you of those polite folks who keep immaculate offices and show up punctually every day as they’re really embezzling from the firm.

Nicholson happily repeats his favorite sneers and mannerisms, but he’s consistently intimidating and has a cavalier attitude that’s weirdly charming.

If anyone believes that Scorsese’s often brutal approach to storytelling has mellowed, “The Departed” will quickly dispel that notion. It’s as graphic and bloody as “Goodfellas” and has a radioactive sense of humor that makes his “After Hours” seem like a Disney comedy.

There are some abrupt scene transitions during the middle of the flick, particularly during an orgy involving Costello that implies some of the film was chopped down to make an R-rating. As a result, there seem to be payoff sequences that never come.

“The Departed” nearly reaches its lofty pedigree. You could fault Scorsese and his collaborators for falling short, but very few disappointments are this entertaining or worthwhile.

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