2006 – The Departed

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The Departed – 2006

The Departed was so named in reference to the dead, or the dearly departed.  Knowing this, I can easily say that it lived up to its name.  By the end of the movie, nearly all the main characters had departed this world, most of them with gunshot wounds to the head.  Martin Scorsese was hired to direct this remake of three Chinese films, originally called Internal Affairs.

Interesting note:  When asked about Scorsese’s film, the co-director of the Internal Affairs series, Andrew Lau, said that his own movies were better, though it was appropriate that Scorsese would change the story to be more suitable for an American audience.  Also, Scorsese did not realize the movie was a re-make until after he had agreed to direct it.

The movie stars Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg.  But there were several other big names that were in supporting roles like Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone and Vera Farmiga.  I had no problems with the acting.  Everybody did a good job.  The movie itself was good.  Scorsese did his job as well.  And it was a thriller so I’ll give another nod to the Academy for stepping away from the dramas that normally win the Best Picture award.

But all that being said, I feel a little less than enthusiastic about it.  The problem is that I’m having difficulty pinpointing why.  I think that the movie’s hype had something to do with it.  Everybody I talked to kept telling me how incredible the movie was, so I had some pretty high expectations.  And while I would certainly call the movie good, I don’t think I would call it great.

The departed was an over-the –top thriller.  Jack Nicholson plays Frankie Costello, a crime-boss in the Irish mafia in Boston.  He is hard and ruthless, no stranger to murder, and manipulative.  He chooses a young boy named Colin Sullivan and takes him under his wing, grooming him so that one day he can become a mole in the Massachusetts State Troopers.   Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, grows up and is accepted into the Special Investigations Unit which focuses on organized crime.

DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a boy who also hails from a neighborhood under Frankie’s control.  Before he graduates from the police academy, he is recruited by Captain Queenan, played by Martin Sheen, and Staff Sergeant Dignam, played by Mark Wahlberg.  They ask him to voluntarily go to jail for a number of years and become a small time criminal in order to build a plausible back-story, all for the purpose of becoming a mole in Frankie’s crime family.

And there is the set up for the entire film.  The rest of the movie follows the two men as they dance around each other, each trying to find the rats in their own organizations before they are found out, themselves.  It is a back-and-forth plot that twists and turns.  How can each mole help their own side while buried deep in their opponent’s?  Who knows their true identities?  How can they be compromised?  It is really a clever script and it kept me very engaged.

But then we bring in the character of Madolyn Madden, played by Vera Farmiga.  She is the sexy psychiatrist who councils both men and starts a relationship with each of them.  She is supposed to be a professional, but she does a number of very unprofessional things that I’m guessing could make her lose her license to practice psychiatry.  While counseling Costigan, she sees him become obviously upset.  He is mad that he can’t get any medication to help him through his stress which is brought on by his assignment.  First, she grabs some pills from her desk and tosses them across the desk at him.  She has already stated that it is far too early to be prescribing him any kind of medication, let alone throwing what looked like an over-the-counter medication for who knows what at him.

Then after he leaves her office in anger, she writes him a quick prescription for Oxycodone.  Then she tracks him down outside the building as he is leaving to give him the prescription and tells him that she no longer see him as a patient.  Not long after that, she jumps into the sack with him.  Never-mind the fact that she is also sleeping with Sullivan.

Interesting note:  The character of Madolyn Madden was actually a combination of two different characters in the original Internal Affairs movies.

Something else about the movie was the overly gratuitous use of foul language.  There were scenes in which every other word was the “F” word.  Every character did it, but Wahlberg was the worst.  He couldn’t open his mouth without dropping the F-bomb.  I’m not opposed to the use of such language, but really, it was way too much.  Of course, this was not the actor’s fault.  It was either the screenwriter or the director.

Of all the actors in the film, I actually would like to single out DiCaprio.  He actually did a particularly good job.  His character was in a situation where his life was in constant danger, and while he handled his fear in front of Frankie flawlessly, when he was away from him, his fear and paranoia were very well portrayed.  At several points he is begging Queenan to get him out.  He almost looked like he was ready to have a nervous break-down.  Well done DiCaprio!

And lest I forget, I have to give another honorable mention to actor Ray Winstone, playing the part of hit man, Mr. French.  He also stood out to me as a particularly god actor.  When he first appeared on the screen, I immediately saw him as a big, cuddly teddy-bear of a man.  But he quickly made me re-evaluate that assessment.  He shows himself to be a tough and almost mean-spirited muscle man for a notorious criminal.  He has a gentle look, but was just as violent as the man he worked for.  Well done Ray!

As I mentioned before, by the end of the movie, nearly everyone gets killed off.  Actually, it would be easier to list off the surviving characters.  Staff Sergeant Dignam and Madolyn Madden.  That’s about it.  And the strange thing about it is that most of them died within the last 5 minutes of the film.  One after another, someone would kill a man, and then within seconds, he would be killed by another character, who would then be killed by another… and so on.  But it all just seemed a bit gratuitous and it all happened so quickly that it left me just a little dumbfounded.

The movie took home 4 Academy Awards.  In addition to Best Picture, The Departed won for Best Director (Scorsese), Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Wahlberg was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, though honestly, I can’t see how his performance was any better than any of his co-stars.  They all did a fine job.

Now, here’s something else about the movie caught my attention.  The whole thing took place in Boston with characters that grew up in Boston.  The two main leads, Damon and DiCaprio had noticeable Boston accents which they both kept up very well.  This was easy for Damon who had actually grown up in Boston, but DiCaprio had to have a dialect coach teach him to have the proper accent.  This just goes one step further why I think he did an exceptional job on the film.

But then I have to ask, why wasn’t DiCaprio nominated for an Oscar?  His acting was excellent, he kept up the difficult task of maintaining a plausible accent, and he had already made a name for himself as a good actor.  He was actually one of those rare cases of a child actor that successfully transitioned into a competent adult actor, a true star of Hollywood.  Well, there were a couple of reasons why he wasn’t nominated.  First, Warner Bros. Studios didn’t want to favor him above any of his co-stars in the Best Actor category.  It is noteworthy to mention that DiCaprio supported this decision, believing The Departed to be an ensemble cast with no leads.  Second, DiCaprio was also in another film in 2006 called Blood Diamond for which he was nominated for the Best Actor category.

And finally, there is one more aspect of the movie that I have to mention in regards to Jack Nicholson’s character of Frankie Costello.  There were two little scenes he was in that didn’t really make much sense.  First, there was a scene that lasted for about 15 or 20 seconds in which Frankie grabs a handful of cocaine and throws it at two whores on a bed.  Then he says “You want some coke?  There it is.  Don’t move until you’re numb.”  In another scene, Sullivan is covertly meeting him in a porn theatre.  Frankie is wearing a trench coat and a quite visible strap on phallus.  Huh?

In my research, I learned that Scorsese told Nicholson to improvise as much as he could to display the wild and unpredictable nature of the character.  I’m OK with that as a concept, but the cocaine scene and the dildo didn’t seem to fit the film somehow.  They seemed to be too non-sequitur.  But those things were actually fairly small and forgivable.  There were probably more similar improvisations that I never noticed because they fin into the film without drawing attention to themselves.

All in all, I’d say The Departed was a good movie and I enjoyed it well enough.  But I guess I’m still having trouble figuring out my ambivalence towards it.  Well, let’s take a quick look at what it was up against.  Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen.  Hmmm… no help there, though Little Miss Sunshine was a very funny comedy.  I think there was just too many gratuitous things about the film:  the violence, the killing and the foul language.  I think the movie might have been just as good with just a little less of each.  But hey, what do I know?

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