Thursday, February 22, 2007

Best Picture Nominees Part IV: The Departed

[rate 3.5]

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The Departed is the story of two men from South Boston who were raised within the sphere of Irish organized crime. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a "connected" family but wants to get away from that life, while Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is taken under the wing of Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a major mob player, as a child.

Costigan and Sullivan join the police force with different agendas: Costigan to become a good cop and fight crime, and Sullivan to gain a position of power and feed Frank Costello information that keeps the cops out of his business.

Sullivan breezes through life as easily as he does through the police force. He's well liked, confident, and can't seem to make a mistake. Costigan, on the other hand, is insecure, and hated by the other officers (they know his family is "connected" and don't trust him).

Costigan, therefore, is given the option to go undercover and infiltrate Costello's gang. "You will never be a cop," they say to him. This is his one chance to make a difference.

Eventually, the police and the mob realize they have rats in their midst, and try to find them. Sullivan, as usual, is the lucky one. He's put on a one-man task force to find--himself. Costigan, however, is suspected of being the rat and kept under scrutiny.

Things get interesting when their paths cross.

The Departed is an enjoyable movie to watch, but lacks the style of Scorsese's earlier mob classics. In Goodfellas and Casino, we're exposed to the cultures within the New York and Vegas crime families, we see their camaraderie, their night life, even how they treat their wives. In the Departed, we only see Costello barking orders and behaving strangely. We barely get to know his crew.

What is also lacking is the witty, conversational dialog. A case in point from Goodfellas is the now famous moment when Tommy (Joe Pesci), believing he's being made fun of, confronts Henry (Ray Liotta): "You think I'm funny? I amuse you?" Henry doesn't know how to take that, and the situation almost comes to blows, but doesn't; though, there was always doubt in Henry's eyes.

There are moments in The Departed that attempt this conversational style, but those moments seem forced and insincere. For example, when Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) addresses fellow cops in a board room, he gets into a shouting match with one of them. They shout obscenities about each other's mother, or something. That seemed completely out of place and unnecessary.

I also found the climax disappointing. It was interesting, and got my attention, but it could have been more compelling. In a story filled with dramatic irony, the dichotomy between these two men, resorting to shock value is a real let down.

Where The Departed really shines, however, is the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Both are believable in their roles, and both outshine Jack Nicholson (as it should be, since they are the leads). DiCaprio, of course, has the more challenging role as the introverted, angst-ridden Costigan, and he never loses his focus. I suspect his performance in The Departed will help his chances to take the statue for Blood Diamond.

Being that Martin Scorsese has never taken home a Best Director Oscar, my guess is that he'll take it this time. But I'd rather he had gotten it for Goodfellas.