a review by Tom Condon, OP
Legendary director Martin Scorsese is most often associated
with the Mean Streets of Little Italy in New York. In The
Departed, he enters the foreign territory of the Boston
Irish-Americans. But Scorsese seems so comfortable in Boston,
you’d think he was a native New Englander.
the geographical shift, The
Departed deals with familiar themes in Scorsese’s
mob movies: belonging, loyalty, and betrayal. Jack Nicholson
plays Frank Costello, a brutal organized crime boss who
has been successful in evading the law. Police Captain Queenan
(Martin Sheen) sends undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo
DiCaprio) to infiltrate the gang. Ironically, Frank has
his own mole inside the state police, Colin Sullivan (Matt
Damon). The screenplay by William Monahan draws the viewer
deeper and deeper into the dark world of intrigue and deception
until the inevitable confrontation between good and evil.
The Departed is very much
a man’s film, with two sets of father-son dynamics
operating: Queenan-Billy and Frank-Colin. Both Billy and
Colin seek to belong to something more than their humble
Irish Catholic roots afforded them. Truth-telling becomes
a major theme in the film with both Billy and Colin. Even
though they are on different sides of the law, both Billy
and Colin pay a great price for hiding their true identities
under hostile circumstances. Ironically, the only one whom
they can trust is Madolyn, a police psychologist. Ultimately
she must determine who is telling the truth about himself
and who is lying.
with long time collaborators Michael Ballhaus (cinematographer)
and Thelma Schoonmaker (film editor), Scorsese moves between
breathless action scenes and intense introspective moments.
There are several great scenes: Frank’s gang slipping
through the hands of the police while selling materials
to Chinese spies, Billy tracking Frank and Colin in and
out of an adult theater, and a climactic confrontation on
a warehouse roof. A final scene of a rat scurrying across
a balcony serves as a wonderful final comment. With scenes
like these, you never forget you are in the confident hands
of a master filmmaker.
Scorsese’s first rate
cast delivers fine performances. Nicholson steals every
scene he is in as the monstrous Frank. After several films
in which he has played flawed but lovable characters (e.g.
As Good As It Gets), Nicholson delves down into the heart
of darkness here. There’s nothing lovable about Frank,
yet you can’t take your eyes off him. DiCaprio is
also excellent as Billy, living undercover, not knowing
from one minute to the next whether Frank and his thugs
will embrace him or kill him. In his third film with Scorsese,
Leonardo has grown tremendously as an actor. In less showy
roles, Damon and Sheen are also excellent.
As good as the film is, I
offer a caution: Scorsese’s world of cops and gangs
is an extremely violent, profane world. People are shot,
stabbed, beaten, and thrown off buildings. The language
among both police and gang members is as raw as it gets.
If you know me, you know that there were times when I had
to turn away from the screen. So be forewarned. Yet, I never
got the sense that the violence was gratuitous, as in so
many other action and horror “gross out” films.
In this brutal world, there is no happy ending. Regardless
of what side of the law one is on (and that’s not
always easy to tell), no one walks away from the brutality
untouched by the violence and corruption. In this increasingly
violent world, without a firm moral compass, no one escapes
unhurt. Maybe that’s the ultimate message that Scorsese
wants to impress upon us.
Tom Condon, OP
The USCCB classification
is L -- limited adult audience.