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"The Departed": Good guys, bad guys blur
Seattle Times movie critic
"Heaven holds the faithful departed," reads the flowery mass card sent to a funeral in Martin Scorsese's tense, grim tour de force, "The Departed." But those who depart the dark world of this film, in bloody gunshot deaths and gruesome would-be accidents, may not necessarily be resting easily; these souls may well be locked out of heaven, left to haunt those few remaining behind.
Based upon the popular 2002 Hong Kong crime drama "Infernal Affairs," directed by Alan Mak and Andrew Lau (and followed by two sequels), "The Departed" is the icy-cool tale of two mirror-image malcontents in the South Boston police department. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), his suits neatly pressed and his hair perfectly combed, is a young detective rapidly rising in his division and given a plum assignment in the Special Investigations Unit. His colleagues don't know his secret: Since childhood, mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) has served as a father figure to him; now, as part of the team assigned to bring Costello down, Sullivan quietly keeps his mentor informed of the division's plans.
Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a hothead rookie, is assigned to go undercover with Costello's mob. He's on the inside looking out; Sullivan is on the outside looking in. Both are moles, wrapped in secrecy; neither knowing of the other. They're unlikely twins, even sleeping with the same woman (Vera Farmiga, as a psychiatrist), and Scorsese makes good use of Damon and DiCaprio's physical resemblance to each other. Both actors quietly simmer: DiCaprio with near-the-surface rage, Damon with deeply buried fire.
That Scorsese can hit this kind of material out of the park isn't surprising, and much of "The Departed" gleams with a certain well-honed perfection. William Monahan's screenplay nicely captures copspeak, and the intertwined closeness of the Irish working-class neighborhood; Thelma Schoonmaker's rapid-fire editing makes a 2 ½-hour movie seem breathless; the throbbing lawlessness of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" finds just the right note on the soundtrack; and the actors with their symphony of Boston accents attack their roles with vigor.
Nicholson, it goes without saying, cheerfully steals the movie as Costello, a vicious mob boss so pleased with his life he's practically purring — he's the cat in a tale of rats. (The feline tones he gives the role are underlined: In one scene he wears a leopard-print tie; in another, a leopard bathrobe.) The actor, of course, tends to purr in all of his roles, but here it's a welcome relief from the tension carried by the rest of the characters.
But as accomplished as "The Departed" is, there's a certain remoteness to it. It's hard to connect emotionally with the story; rather, the men become chesspieces, moved about efficiently and intelligently, often garnished with blood. I missed the rich character work of the filmmaker who made "The Aviator," "The Age of Innocence" and "Taxi Driver," but it's undeniable that "The Departed" will find its audience, and deservedly so. And a few of its moments are irresistible. Asked how an ailing mother is doing, a character replies, "She's on her way out." Nicholson, eyebrows reeling, doesn't miss a beat. "We all are," he rasps knowingly. "Act accordingly."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company