I've been a long time admirer of Martin Scorsese's works and I generally like most films starring Jack Nicholson, but bringing together two silver screen icons isnt necessarily a recipe for success. However, when I read the glowing reviews this film got in the press I just had to see it - and I wasn't disappointed.
The Departed is a tense thriller full of twists and turns and remains unpredictable right to the very end. In many ways it is the standard Scorsese gangster flick in the mould of Goodfellas or Mean Streets with its macho posturing and graphic violence. Scorsese makes a successful transition from his familiar stomping ground of the Italian community in New York to the Irish community in Boston. Jack Nicholson in the role Scorsese normally reserves for Bob de Niro puts in a virtuoso performance as sadistic Boston Irish gangster chief Frank Costello.
Matt Damon is Colin Sullivan the clean cut high flying cop who works his way through the ranks to become a senior detective, but who in reality is acting as a mole on the inside for Costello. Leonardo di Caprio, by contrast is the thug from the ghetto turned cop sent by the Boston police department to work undercover to infiltrate Frank Costello's gang. We have the paradox of criminal and cop leading parallel lives, but in this case each character leads a double life as both criminal and cop. The fine line between the two occupations is brought to light by Nicholson's character who observes what's the difference when your'e looking down the barrel of a gun".
It is inevitable that di Caprio and Damon will finally came face to face with each other and the mounting tension is reminiscent of Michael Mann's Heat which pits Bob De Niro's gangster against his arch nemesis detective played by Al Pacino.
Di Caprio's situation mirrors that of Johnny Depp's undercover cop sent to infiltrate a Mafia cell in Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco. There is a prevailing sense of claustrophobia inherent in Costigan's predicament fuelled by the fear that his cover could be blown at any time.
There is also an excellent supporting cast. Ray Winstone makes the effective transition from his usual role of East End cockney gangster to Boston-Irish gangster with a convincing accent to match. Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg are brilliantly played against each other as Di Caprio's handlers in the classic nice cop/nasty cop scenario. Vera Farmiga, however in one of the two token female roles of police psychiatrist is not really given the chance to develop her character.
There are sporadic references to the Irish community in Boston with the common theme of immigrants striving to improve their social standing - by entering the priesthood, the police or the criminal underworld - or in this case both of the latter two. The influence of the Catholic church is never far away. An early scene depicts a young Sullivan as an altar boy and later on there is the inference that Costello is extorting money from a local priest in return for keeping quiet about alleged paedophile activities. The theme of young boys running errands for local mobsters
We have a community similar to that depicted in Barry Levinson's Sleepers or Scorsese's Goodfellas. Young boys begin their apprenticeships in crime by running errands for local mobsters. Society is safe for ordinary people as long as they remain silent about the criminal activities of the friendly neighbourhood crime syndicate, as in the scene where a woman refuses to cooperate with the police who are investigating the death of her own son. There is a general air of moral corruption to which omnipresent church leaders turn a blind eye
Scorsese uses occasional shots of the Boston skyline with the cry of sea gulls in the background to great effect. One of the more memorable scenes involves Damon as gangster's mole chasing Di Caprio as undercover infiltrator through the streets of the city's Chinese quarter.
The Departed is based on a Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, so in effect is another American rehashing of a foreign flick, but not having seen the original I'll reserve judgment on this. Overall, it's an enjoyable cat and mouse thriller and not without its moments of black humour.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Posted by CW at 2:30 PM