(director: Martin Scorsese; screenwriters: William Monahan/based on the movie screenplay Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak and Felix Chong; cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus; editor: Thelma Schoonmaker; music: Howard Shore; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Sergeant Dignam), Martin Sheen (Captain Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Anthony Anderson (Brown), Alec Baldwin (Captain Ellerby), James Badge Dale (Barrigan), David Patrick O’Hara (Fitzy), Mark Rolston (Delahunt), Kevin Corrigan (Cousin Sean); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brad Grey/Jennifer Aniston/Graham King/Brad Pitt/Martin Scorsese; Warner Brothers; 2006)
“… managing to convey nothing for the mind or soul in its over two hours of excessive overkill.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver”/”Raging Bull”/”GoodFellas”/”Mean Streets”) takes another crack at a violent urban drama after straying from that familiar turf with his last two films “The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York”; it’s the kind of pugnacious subject-matter he has earned his legendary rep on. The uneven screenplay is by William Monahan, who keeps it strictly an action-packed gratuitous splatter film and fails to give it any gravitas. It’s inspired by the popular 2002 Hong Kong action thriller Infernal Affairs, a pic that was slightly better. This commercial film is well-crafted, stunningly photographed by Michael Ballhaus and excellently edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, but stumbles by leaning too much on a high body count and a campy misplaced hammy performance by Jack Nicholson (basically doing his The Joker role again) as the villain who fails to be scary as he shoots only for ghoulish humor (the crime boss’s second in command, Ray Winstone, is much more menacing and his performance fits more comfortably into the film’s violent scope). Scorsese keeps it hipster-like vulgar and always lively as he shifts from the mean streets of New York to South Boston (chronicling an Irish organized crime family), and builds an ugly cop story about a rat against a mole. Shot in a stylishly frenetic pace, giving one little pause to take in the story with any serious thought, has nevertheless appealed to many of my film critic colleagues, some even calling it great film-making. But for me, for all its heavy breathing and its many Scorsese signature moments, it had no emotional impact and no profundity; in fact, it’s as light as a feather–managing to convey nothing for the mind or soul in its over two hours of excessive overkill.

It tells of Irish mafia South Boston kingpin, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who skillfully knows which candidates to recruit in their childhood to join his gang and maintains power by being cunning, ruthless and willing to be an FBI informer. The first part of the pic shows Frank working a loser kid to be on his side by buying his poor family groceries. That kid, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), grows up to be an ambitious state trooper and is the rogue detective sergeant who works for Frank while he’s investigating him. The cop’s special unit is headed by devout Catholic family man Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and loud mouth antagonistic Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg), who have been frustrated in their attempt to nail the mobster over many years. Colin’s counterpart is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is a volatile young man from a family with a long criminal history and connections to the Costello gang. The angry Valium-popping young man is talked into leaving the state police academy as a cadet and becoming an undercover cop in order to get in with Frank’s gang (though his motivation for taking such a dirty mission is never made clear, even though he has experienced difficulty at the academy because of his violent nature). After much bloodshed and double-crosses, both the police and the gang leader realize they have been compromised by a mole on each side, and things will conclude with these two moles left to confront each other and work out the damage–each trying to establish what’s their real identity and what it’s all about.

The electric pace of the film is enhanced by the thundering Rolling Stones music blasting out in the opening sequences while on the screen there’s mayhem over a street fight. The film never slows down from the violence but to go for the obscene nature of those cops and criminals featured, such as exposing the hard-nosed cops as communicating best when talking with a foul mouth, making Catholic guilt a part of every native son from South Boston, never seeming to miss a chance to call a Catholic priest a cock sucker, picturing women as sluts and sex objects, and having violence become so casual and blunt that it’s meant to be taken as just cartoonish entertainment.

Vera Farmiga plays Madolyn, the police mental health counselor to both Colin and Billy, who becomes their love interest and is the only one each implicitly trusts. Alec Baldwin plays an arrogant police captain who is in on the targeting of Costello. He handles his part in the straightforward way it was written for him, and in a film where everyone has a broad accent and is trying to dish out a showy performance it’s easy to overlook his competent but not flashy performance.

The Departed refers to those who died, and it’s left questionable if the living got it right as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys when all is said and done. In the opening scene Nicholson conveys his thoughts that “I don’t want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me.” This might also stand for Scorsese, as the great American filmmaker who has clearly been the most important influence on recent Hong Kong cinema and is a giant on the American film scene. Scorsese aims to make a highly entertaining crime story and doesn’t pretend to be shooting for anything other than that, and though he succeeds in that limited aim, nevertheless, the story is too average to make the film anything more than average.

The Departed