Directed by Martin Scorsese (2006), 151 minutes
Based on the popular Hong Kong action thriller Infernal Affairs, Martin Scorseses The Departed has kinetic energy, an outstanding ensemble cast, a world-class director, and tense non-stop action but ultimately fails to provide any genuine emotional satisfaction. Scorsese, whose Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas are classics of the genre, has come up with another gritty urban drama but, unlike his earlier efforts, it is filled with casual, cartoonish killing and a point of view that the excesses of organized crime and law enforcement are virtually indistinguishable. In an environment that does not distinguish between ends and means, there is no one to root for and those that do find a character to cheer for are begging for disappointment.
Set in the mean streets of South Boston, The Departed is the story of an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) planted in the Costello crime syndicate and a mole (Matt Damon) who infiltrates the police force, pretending to be a cop. The film comes out of the gate roaring with the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter providing the background to a street fight. The first Irish Mafioso we meet is Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson. In a flashback, Costello recruits a youngster named Colin Sullivan by buying groceries for his family. Later, Sullivan goes to work for Costello when he becomes a detective sergeant in the police force. Unfortunately, Mr. Nicholson performance is so over-the-top that we are all too conscious that we are watching Jack Nicholson, the actor not Frank Costello, the mob kingpin.
Sullivan is played by Matt Damon as a one-dimensional Southie character just out of Good Will Hunting (I was half expecting Ben Affleck to wander into the scene with the rest of his drinking buddies). Sullivans superiors are devout Catholic Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam in an Oscar-nominated performance by Mark Wahlberg. Dignam has the most quotable lines in the film, but his character is so foul-mouthed and antagonistic that he soon becomes tiresome. The most accomplished performance in the film is that of Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan, a tough but sensitive undercover cop who comes from a family with a criminal background and fits into the Costello organization but has to swallow Valium just to stay on an even keel.
There is some love interest in the film as well. Both Billy and Colin fall for the police mental health counselor Madolyn (Vera Farmiga). Ms Farmiga does a creditable job but her part is so underwritten that it feels extraneous. Both Costello and the police soon discover that they have a rat in their midst and Sullivan and Costigan are assigned the job of finding the fink. As the noose tightens, both men desperately strive to avoid detection and there is lots of action as the dead bodies pile up.
The Departed is a finely crafted film, excellently photographed by Michael Ballhaus and for the most part very well acted. Unfortunately, the plot is very thin and there is little character development or seriousness of purpose. While Scorsese should be acknowledged for telling the truth about the thin line between criminals and the law, the ending is so downbeat that it leaves us wondering what point other than futility the film is trying to make. During two and one-half hours of gratuitous violence, betrayals, double-crosses, and one-note characters, the departed may include members of the exhausted audience.