The Departed (2006)

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Review #266 of 365
Film: The Departed (2006) [R] 149 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO–Special Screening for the Denver Film Society
When 1st Seen: 4 October 2006
Time: 7:00 p.m.

Directed by: Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)
Screenplay by: William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven), Siu Fai Mak (Mou gaan dou aka Infernal Affairs) & Felix Chong (Mou gaan dou aka Infernal Affairs)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator) • Matt Damon (Syriana) • Jack Nicholson (Something's Gotta Give) • Mark Wahlberg (Invincible) • Martin Sheen ("The West Wing") • Ray Winstone (The Proposition) • Vera Farmiga (Running Scared) • Alec Baldwin (Fun with Dick and Jane)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
It's only the beginning of October, why did Warner Brothers decide to release Martin Scorsese's star-struck The Departed featuring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon in, call it what you will, a remake or re-imagining of the 2002 Hong Kong crime lord vs. vice squad cop thriller Infernal Affairs now? Were they afraid of a little competition from Casino Royale? Did they think that a mole vs. mole movie wouldn't play well in December? Well, for whatever reasons, thank goodness they did. What a way to jump-start both the Academy Award® buzz list and the real fall movie season.

The Bad News:
Yes, sorry purists, but the USA cannot take credit for the original story. It is based on a rather brilliant plot for the film, Mou gaan dou aka Infernal Affairs by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong.

If critics were upset with Sean Penn and Jude Law for not having flawless Southern accents in All the King's Men, wait until the get a load of Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio trying to do Boston accents in the same scenes with authentic Bostonians Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg (technically to be fair Damon is from Cambridge and Walberg is from Dorchester, but don't tell them they're not from Boston).

The Disclaimers:

Martin Scorsese is not known for happy endings, so be prepared for justice but not Disney®. No spoilers intended.

If you have grown weary of movies, tv, and talk show hosts taking pot shots at the Catholic Priest molestation scandals, this film escalates it to the form of a sport.

No USA movie has ever depended so heavily on cell phone text messaging, so if you still don't know how to text message, you'd better get over it and get with it. But, this also ushers in a new era in films where, alas for people who cannot stand subtitles, now you have to read little messages on a cell phone screen held up to the camera and enlarged. Ironic and awkward to be sure, but essential to the success of this plot.

If you are squeamish or faint of heart, well, this film is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart.

Maybe someone can post in and explain historically why the special police in Massachusetts, which constantly prides itself on being officially a Commonwealth and not a State, has State Police 'affectionately' called 'Staddies'? Instead of the Commonwealth Police where they could be 'affectionately' called 'Wealthies'?

The Good Stuff:

The film begins "some time ago" in Boston with little Colin Sullivan (Conor Donovan whom you might remember from Twelve and Holding) meeting up with major crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson with jet-black dyed hair and looking a good 20 years younger) in a small corner diner/store—the kind where you used to walk in a sit at the counter.

Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello
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An act of apparent kindness toward the boy turns into a life-long bond and eventually the planting of the grown up Collin (Matt Damon) into the Massachusetts State Police plainclothes detective division where he can serve Frank as a mole.

Matt Damon as Collin Sullivan
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Who knew that buying two cartons of milk, two loaves of bread, and some lunchmeat could earn that kind of loyalty and, worse/better, duplicity? Well, gentlepeople, Frank gives young Colin more than food for his dear grandmother. He gives him pearls of wisdom such as "If you want something in life, you have to take it." And there you go. In the same class at the Police Academy, enrolls a young lad who lived a dual life growing up in two parts of Boston, a nicer upscale, "kids go to Deerfield" part, and a not as nice part where kids end up in prison. His name is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), and while his father was a pretty honest baggage handler at the airport, his uncle was a weasel and in with the likes of Frank Costello.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan
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One thing that Billy is, is very, very smart, and the higher ups at the State Police Bureau recognize this and decide to pull him out, and put him through hell and back so that he can infiltrate the Costello organization and help bring Frank down. What never occurred to me, and probably hasn't occurred to most law-abiding citizens, is that in order to fit in, he's got to drop out of the program, commit a crime, and serve real time in prison before he'd ever be acceptable material for the Costello crew. Partly because he's made to feel guilty by his two superior officers in the super-secretive under cover division, Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg—this has to have been the dream role of his lifetime) and Captain Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen—the good cop to Dignam's bad cop) and partly because he has some self-destructive allegiance to doing better than his father had done, Billy signs away his life for secret pay and non-taxable bonuses.

Mark Wahlberg as Officer Dignam
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Billy will be so undercover that only Queenan and Dignam will even know that he's undercover. And so the mole and mole game begins. Costello has Sullivan high up in the police department and Queenan has Costigan high up in the Costello organization. Things are going along pretty well with this arrangement until, however, Costigan figures out there is a mole in the police dept. and Costello hears rumors there's a rat cop in his crew. In the worst of all possible arrangements for Costigan, eventually Sullivan is put in charge with finding the mole in the police department essentially being assigned to find himself and making it easier to ferret out Costigan. As smart as Billy is, he seems woefully unable to figure out the police rat is Sullivan. Had it been the other way around, then there wouldn't have been as much of a thrill in it would there? The net result is a huge cat and mouse and cat game between the three organizations: Costello's crime gang, the state police, and the undercover state police. To stir things up a bit more, the writers decided to secretly interfere with the love lives of Costigan and Sullivan putting them in to a love triangle with a police shrink named Madolyn (Vera Farmiga—coy as always and the only character that really gets to see the true nature of each).

"…acting is superb…smartly written…The Departed is very nearly a masterpiece…"
So, that's a lot to digest. Fortunately, there's 149 minutes in which to take it in. It flys by, though, with never a dull moment. The script is smartly written with some extra twists that you really have to pay attention to fully grasp. The finale is action-packed, depressing, chilling, and gripping to the point of jolting one between extreme emotional states like a carnival ride out of control. While, the acting is superb, in each character there is a huge, unexplained void that dampens the ultimate impact. Twenty seconds here and there could have filled in these holes and pushed the film that much further. These are most notable in the good guys in the film. We don't ever know what motivates them. It's clear that good guys can be turned, but why not these guys, what holds them true? And, obviously, there is the psychological torture for the two moles of living their lives with loyalties to people in the case of Sullivan and principles in the case of Costigan witnessing a subtle transformation of self toward the other side the longer they are immersed in these circumstances. This is more pronounced in Costigan which, frankly, is the only thing keeping him alive. His sanity is always in doubt. The Departed is very nearly a masterpiece as one would expect from one of the most legendary of Hollywood directors.

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Other Projects Featuring The Departed (2006) Cast Members
Leonardo DiCaprioMatt DamonJack Nicholson
Mark WahlbergMartin SheenRay Winstone
Vera FarmigaAlec Baldwin
Other Projects Involving The Departed (2006) Director
Martin Scorsese
Other Projects Involving The Departed (2006) Writer
William Monahan
Other Projects Involving The Departed (2006) Musical Composer
Howard Shore
Related DVD

The Departed (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
It's only the beginning of October, and what a way to jump-start both the Academy Award® buzz list and the fall movie season than with Martin Scorsese's star-struck The Departed--a remake of 2002's Hong Kong crime lord vs. vice cop thriller Infernal Affairs? Irish Crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) plants pseudo-son Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) deeply into the detective's unit of the Massachusetts State Police. Meanwhile, state police undercover bosses, Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) embed tormented rookie cop turned faux criminal Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) deeply into Costello's crew. It's only a matter of time before each organization figures out that these moles exist, learning their identities, on the other hand, will become the game. The film is action-packed and gripping with superb acting. The Departed is very nearly a masterpiece as one would expect from one of the most legendary of Hollywood directors.

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