The Departed

The Departed

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hollywood has a lousy rep for remakes of foreign movies. The list is exhaustive and too boring to go into here. Let's just say, William Monahan's reworking of Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's script of Infernal Affairs (2002) is blistering. That means it's so hot it might melt your earwax. Take care. These words leave scars.

Martin Scorsese hasn't done anything as perfectly structured since GoodFellas. If the ending is too Shakespearean for your cynical taste and the final shot too silly for something so focused, forgive the man. After messy, overblown mishaps like Gangs Of New York, the maestro of Mean Streets is back. With a vengeance.

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Set in Boston, this is a story of corruption in the police force, organised crime, undercover moles and violent death. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) went through Police Academy - no, not that one! - together, although they didn't know each other. Both are separately selected by Queenan (Martin Sheen) and interrogated by his guard dog Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) for inclusion into a special unit, dedicated to the arrest of the city's big bad wolf, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a gangster of considerable influence, charm and cunning, who is also a psychopath and extremely dangerous to know.

Costigan is put undercover to infiltrate Costello's gang, while Sullivan has always been Frank's boy. Two moles, two sides, both ensconced and vulnerable, playing a deadly game. On the surface, Sullivan looks the cooler. He's a calculating, efficient and effective liar. Costigan takes punishment, grits his teeth and keeps his head down, but he has a short fuse and can erupt at any moment. Also, he's stressed to the edge and can't sleep. At times, he thinks he's going nuts, which is how he meets Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a psychologist, who happens to be Sullivan's girlfriend - a sub plot too far, perhaps.

Despite a storyline that twists itself into knots, the performances are riveting, the pace electric and the dialogue as tough as a locker room of homophobic rat catchers. The violence is unapologetically painful and the tension, as both Queenan and Costello suspect a spy in their midst, tightens around the throat. At some point, Sullivan and Costigan must face each other, but where and how? Will they survive that long?

Scorsese controls Nicholson's penchant for playing the panto villain. Frank is a survivor because he fakes friendship. "No one gives a tear," he tells Sullivan. "You have to take it." What Nicholson can do is lure the audience into the nest of his Jackness and then eat them alive. Never trust a smile so well rehearsed when he still has the eyes of a hawk. This is acting a la crème, the real McNugget.

DiCaprio continues to captivate under Scorsese's tutelage. Costigan is not a hero, like the old movie stars, who never took a bullet. He's trapped in his cage, increasingly terrified as Costello's ruthless insanity becomes ever more prevalent. DiCaprio conveys this finger ledge terror with beautifully disguised machismo.

Damon understands corporate man, the body language and the predatory alertness. In Copsville, where buddies will break your balls, Sullivan dodges neatly into a position of power. He knows the moves and never lets anyone close, not even Madolyn, although he can pretend like any other schmuck in luck. Damon does cold like an ice cream on a stick.

Finally, give Costigan the last word.

"There is no one more fucked up than a cop - except a cop on TV."

This ain't TV, Billy. It's Boston. Is that worse?

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2006
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The Departed packshot
Two cops in Boston go undercover on either side of organised crime.
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Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: William Monahan, based on the screenplay of Infernal Affairs by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin, David O'Hara

Year: 2006

Runtime: 149 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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Infernal Affairs