Monday, October 09, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: The Departed

Here’s the nuts and bolts of Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Departed: Bill Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is selected by the Massachusetts State Troopers to go undercover in Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) Irish mob. At the same time, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) moves his way up the ranks of the State police to Staff Sergeant in a special investigations unit. Sullivan’s de facto father figure is Costello. So the police have a man in Costello’s ranks and Costello has a man in the police ranks.

The opening sequence sets up the contrasting paths of Costigan and Sullivan in excellent fashion. We see Costigan living a dank and violent life trying to insinuate himself into Costello’s crew and Sullivan’s quick rise to a position where he can exert some manner of control over how much information about Costello is known. Soon enough Costigan and Sullivan both earn the confidence of their respective organizations. And thus does the cat-n-mouse game of dual informants begin as both Costello and the police realize that there’s somebody on the inside.

The set-up is amazingly well done. The story, based on the Hong Kong movie, Infernal affairs (which I haven’t seen), is transplanted to modern day Boston. DiCaprio is excellent as the almost unhinged undercover man. Damon is strong as the all-business, ready to move up the ladder, eager beaver policeman with the hidden agenda. Nicholson’s performance is good too. He wasn’t as distracting as I’ve come to expect from him in recent years. I was half-expecting a hammy Joker redo, but that wasn’t the case. The supporting cast of Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and, heck, even Anthony Anderson all do great jobs.

Scorsese’s directing lacks the stylistic signatures he exhibits in other movies. But he still wields a mean camera and even with the close-ups and still-standing camera, he soaks in every detail through the lens better than most in the business.

What The Departed lacks is pacing. While it never lags and keeps moving forward at a nice clip, the tension as Costigan and Sullivan close in on finding each other is almost nonexistent, outside of the final 20 minutes or so and a few scenes patched in the middle. Those final 20 odd minutes save the movie from being just another average cops and robbers movie. As new motives are discovered and concealed identities upturned, the whole thing climaxes with a frantic bloodletting that, in pure Scorsese fashion, is done with nonchalance and urgency. As the identities of Sullivan and Costigan become jeopardized, we see the real identity behind each character, which leads to more surprises and a nice twist concerning loyalty versus self-preservation.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The Departed. Tight story, some nice surprises to keep the audience guessing, and solid performances. I kept hoping for more white-knuckle intensity, which wasn’t sustained. Ultimately, it’s a few jabs short of setting up a knockout punch, but intriguing and clever nonetheless.

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