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the departed The Departed
Directed by:
Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nickolson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen

Written by:
Ricardo Barberini

February 19, 2007

Martin Scorsese is quite popular for his brutal and sometimes gory movies.  He has directed many movies, some memorable and some not quite so remarkable.  His best film probably was the Taxi Driver (1976) with Robert De Niro as a slightly off center taxi driver and Jodie Foster as a teenage prostitute.


Then in 1980 he directed Raging Bull, again with Robert De Niro as the boxer Jake La Motta, who became a world champion because he was personally so violent and so paranoid that he did not even trust his wife with his brother.  Scorsese should have probably won the Academy Award for either of those films.  However, he was not even nominated for the Taxi Driver and he lost the 1980 Oscar to Robert Redford for his pedestrian movie Ordinary People.  In 2002, he made another violent movie, the Gangs of New York which was a grotesque caricature of actual historical events. 

Scorsese was nominated for two more violent movies, Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995.)  Both were based on true stories with abundant violence, cruelty, bloodshed and mayhem.  There was no real artistic merit in either of those movies.

This brings us to The Departed.  This movie is a remake of a Chinese movie titled Internal Affairs written and co-directed by Siu Fai Mak in 2002.  In the current movie, the setting has been changed to Boston but the underlying story remains the same. 

Martin Scorsese's version of the movie is about the Irish Mafia versus the Boston Police Department.  Scorsese has stated somewhere that this was a project done mainly as fun.  He does not seem to consider it as his major movie and yet he may win an Oscar this time even though better movies are competing for the magic prize this year.

Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is an Irish gang leader with the foresight to discover a bright young boy with criminal tendencies as a potential mole.  With Frank’s help, the young man (Colin Sullivan) played by Matt Damon gets into the Boston Police Academy and shortly after graduation is assigned to the detective unit.

The FBI, led by a buffoonish agent named Ellerby (Alec Baldwin), is trying to gather evidence to put Frank Costello away.  And, who does Ellerby rely on to help him? No other than Colin the mole!

Enter the White Knights!  The chief of the detectives, Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his foul mouthed assistant a Sergeant Bryce Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) enlist the help of an Irish cadet, William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate the Irish mob.

Naturally, the two sides find out that there is an infiltrator or a rat, as they call it, inside their camp.  They try their damnest to find out who it is and eliminate the problem.  Colin Sullivan is nearly caught by the undercover agent William Costigan but he manages to escape discovery. 

Eventually, the Irish Mob kill Queenan, the chief of detectives.  Colin decides that Frank Costello is expendable so he helps FBI and the Boston Police to corner him and he kills his mentor and protector in cold blood.

William Costigan gets wise to Collin and arranges to meet and arrest the police traitor.  He sets up an appointment in an abandoned building.  We wondered why he was so stupid.  Anyway, William is murdered by one of Colin’s fellow rats who is promptly killed by Colin to cover his tracks.  So in the department eyes, Colin becomes a hero.

In the final scene, William Costigan is given a hero’s funeral by the Boston Police.  A triumphant and much acclaimed Collin returns to his apartment from the funeral where he is in the head by the assistant chief of detectives, Sergeant Dignam who has been after him for a long time.  That is where the movie ends.

Matt Damon is a character actor.  He has proven his ability time an again in Mr. Ripley, the Bourne movies and recently in the Good Shepherd.  In this movie, he plays a calculating cold hearted wooden faced character who wants to be a winner.  The characterization is quite similar to the Ripley character.  Leonardo DiCaprio does a wonderful rendition of a somewhat violent young man torn between two worlds; a mob boss who likes him and his true calling as a policeman.

Jack Nicholson is, as always, a delightful tong-in-cheek, bad guy.  Even though he is evil, you cannot but love the guy.

Mark Wahlberg, as Sergeant Bryce Dignam, delivers an Oscar worthy performance in this movie.  It was over twenty years ago that he was a mindless teenage singing idol in New Kids on the Block.

As is generally usual with Martin Scorsese, the female roles do not have much to say or do.  The psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) sleeps with both informants who also happen to be her patients.  She gets religion and leaves Colin when she discovers that he is a mob informant.  The gangster moll Kristen Dalton is even more transparent than Vera Farmiga. 

The screenplay was quite absorbing.  However, it had several big holes in it.  For example, in one scene, Colin erases all history of William Costigan, the undercover agent.  No matter who you are, you cannot delete a policeman’s record from the system.  That kind of operation is handled by the Human Resources and it always backed up by hard copy and, in any case, records are never deleted since they are backed up nightly on tape for eternity!  

Also, we know that Martin Scorsese as a former seminarian gone straight is quite fond of violence and gore.  The foul language and four letter words uttered by the policemen are pervasive throughout this movie and frankly do not add any value to the movie.

As it happens, this writer was associated with a police department very similar to the Boston PD, and we can tell you a thing or two about the real policemen.  The Metropolitan police, in most cities, are actually polite to each other and even to the undeserving murderous perps.  They discovered long ago that using four letter words does not prove your manhood nor does it help get confessions from felons, a rubber hose would do much better, not that they use that nowadays.

Martin Scorsese should have received his Oscar thirty years ago for the Taxi Driver or over twenty five years ago for the Raging Bull. 

The question before us is this.  Is this a very good movie?  The answer is yes.  Is this picture worthy of an Academy Award for best director of 2006?  We think that the award belongs to Stephen Frears who directed The Queen.  However, the majority of the members of the Academy who vote to select the best director are Americans and as such are more inclined to vote for US directors.  Nevertheless, sometimes they vote for a director that they perceive as an underdog, such as a minority director or an older person, who has never won an award.

So, it is anybody’s guess as to who will win it.

As for this movie, we will give it starSTARstar.   There is no sex in this movie and the violence is far less than a children’s video game

Go see it and rent it or buy it when it comes out on DVD

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