“The departed…what was their name?” asks Sergeant Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) about a gruesome photo of a recently deceased mobster. That’s what “The Departed”, Martin Scorsese’s interminable bloodbath of a film, is all about: dead people. Or, more specifically, people who are living their lives alongside caustic men with guns who will soon be dead if their parts aren’t played to perfection, i.e. the memorable quote, “Cop or criminal, with a gun in your face, it’s all the same.”
For Scorsese fans like myself, “The Departed” is a welcome breath of fresh blunt force trauma and skull shattering bullet wounds. Following up the legendary director’s foray into the not unmemorable, wide-scoped Leonardo DiCaprio starring epics “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator”, and his acclaimed documentary on the life and music of Bob Dylan, “No Way Home”, Scorsese, aided by a brutally funny and fork tongued script courtesy of William Monahan (“Kingdom of Heaven”), returns to the dramatic, mob-fueled violence of his earlier 90’s classics like “Goodfellas” and “Casino”.
What also brought the film home for me, being a native New Englander from Providence, Rhode Island, was the accuracy with which the script and characters embodied Boston tough guys and the long standing bad blood between the Irish in Boston and Italians in Providence. The language, the muscular ignorance, the racially charged humor, the myopic quests for dirty money and neighborhood fame is all dead on. You could tell in the Southern California theatre that I was in who was from back East or who understood the culture, because hardly anyone laughed but myself, my girlfriend and a few others. You have to be careful where you view the film however, for laughing out loud at some of the cracks, mostly those made by Frank Costello, Jack Nicholson’s flamboyant mob boss character, may be considered by some to constitute a hate crime.
“The Departed”, as you have hopefully gathered by now using simple logic, is a mob-cop crime drama set in the mean streets of present day Boston. The major players are as follows: Frank Costello, a larger than life sociopathic gangster with a penchant for leopard print and cocaine; Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a rageaholic cop way undercover in Costello’s crew; Sergeant Collin Sullivan, a compulsively lying mole in the police department planted there and raised from childhood by Costello; and Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a blonde, business suit wearing psychiatrist who gives psychotherapy, and sometimes sex, to cops. All their roles intertwine seamlessly as the movie progresses from the initial explaining of Costigan’s and Sullivan’s histories with the lateral aide of the new goofball personality of Alec Baldwin (Ellerby), hard-ass and potty mouthed detective Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), and Martin Sheen as Detective Oliver Queenan.
Everyone’s A-game is brought out, especially DiCaprio, who seems to have turned into a man overnight. He is edgy, vulnerable, squirrelly, explosive, and captures all the unconscious anxiety one would think an undercover cop would have when constantly inflicting fatal injuries on innocent people and pretending to enjoy it. Nicholson is on a comedic/schizo trip as Costello, acting much like a mix of his characters in “As Good as it Gets” and “The Shining”. And you most likely already hate Matt Damon because he looks like the quarterback of your high school football team who got laid way before you and now has a seat in Congress, and your feelings won’t change, but you’ll think he did a fine job anyway.
Aside from the tour-de-force acting, smashup language and directorial prowess, the plot is slow paced and on the whole immediately predictable, which doesn’t become a crutch because of the three factors already mentioned. Basically, and without giving away too much that you will figure out twenty minutes in, a spy versus spy situation emerges as both rats on the inside hunt each other down. Also, the inherent farce of local law enforcement hierarchies is exposed in the process. All you really need to know is that a lot of blood is spilt and magnificently showered onto walls, many bones are broken, teeth are knocked out, and the words “cunt” and “guinea” are used copiously.
Scorsese fans will not be disappointed by “The Departed”, and if it is “Copland”-esque crime dramas you are into, then this is a sure pick. I’ve personally never laughed more in a movie theatre while at the same time cringing uneasily and saying, “Holy shit!” Bravo.
(Note: This is the first review of “The Departed”. Read a second review here.)
Martin Scorsese (director) / William Monahan (screenplay), Siu Fai Mak, Felix Chong (screenplay “Infernal Affairs”)
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio …. Billy Costigan
Matt Damon …. Colin Sullivan
Jack Nicholson …. Frank Costello
Mark Wahlberg …. Dignam
Martin Sheen …. Oliver Queenan
Ray Winstone …. Mr. French
Vera Farmiga …. Madolyn
Anthony Anderson …. Brown
Alec Baldwin …. Ellerby