Loaded with gay epithets, Scorsese’s new gangster-thriller is complex, fun
A cop goes undercover in the mob. Simple.
The mob’s boy becomes a mole in the police force. Simple.
Both plots in the same movie. Unbelievably complex, to the point where your head will explode if you try to figure it out. That’s “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese’s best feature so far in this century.
Based on the equally confusing Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs,” “The Departed” moves the action to Boston, where Jack Nicholson gleefully overacts the role of godfatherly Frank Costello. He’s run the town forever but is facing competition from the Mafia in Providence.
Frank’s been grooming Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as a prot?g? since Colin was a lad, having latched onto him with the zeal of a pedophile. (But he isn’t. No one in this movie is gay-identified, and most of them toss around words like “faggot,” “homo” and “cocksucker” as epithets.)
Colin goes to the police academy and rises quickly through the ranks, becoming a detective in the elite State Police Special Investigations Unit, under Alec Baldwin. They work with the FBI to bring down organized crime.
Meanwhile, back at the police academy, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is flunking out. It’s all part of a plot to take advantage of his family’s mob affiliations (except for his late father, a baggage handler, and a priest, said to be “married to a 12-year-old boy and living on a beach in Thailand,” they’re all connected) to get him a place with Costello. Billy’s in Frank’s inner circle by the time the film begins in earnest.
So when Costello has a deal going down, Billy calls his boss, Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen). Queenan and the antagonistic Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) are the only people who know that Billy’s a cop. The police make a plan to catch Frank and company, but Colin phones Frank to tip him off.
That pattern holds through a couple of major sequences that play out differently, as each side becomes increasingly aware of a rat in their midst. At one point, Colin is pressured by Costello to find out which of his men is an undercover cop. Colin is assigned by Queenan to uncover the mob informant on the police force in other words, himself.
Billy is more troubled by his dual role than Colin at least he says he is. But there are none of the conflicted loyalties of “Donnie Brasco.” Each man is for himself and his real boss, in that order, while doing what he must to maintain his cover.
Both moles are attracted to the same woman, Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a police psychiatrist. But Colin sees her first. She becomes the closest thing to a confidant each man has personally, professionally or both.
Coming from Hollywood, “The Departed” has more of everything (except Asians) than “Infernal Affairs”: more sex, more violence and more plot twists. As a result, it runs half as long, even though some scenes are exactly the same, word for word and almost shot by shot.
Arguably the best thing about “The Departed” is the dialogue in William Monahan’s script, heavy on F-words, racial epithets and such, and delivered with zeal by the cast. Baldwin seems to think he’s reciting David Mamet (“State and Main,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”) again as he digs into his lines, as when he’s told the feds are tapping cell phones and exclaims, “Patriot Act I love it! I love it!” Or when he congratulates Colin on his engagement: “Marriage is a big part of getting ahead. Lets people know you’re not a homo.”
Damon and especially DiCaprio are OK as the babyfaced tough guys. But it’s Nicholson’s show all the way. Well, Nicholson’s and Scorsese’s, as the director gives it his usual flair.
“The Departed” is an overly tangled web of deception that can drive you crazy if you try to untangle it. But if you just let it roll over you, it’s fun to watch.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg
Opens: Oct. 6 in wide release
2 hrs., 29 min. R
WELCOME TO THE ORGY
What’s “Hedwig” creator John Cameron Mitchell been doing lately? He’s been especially naughty. His new movie “Shortbus” has more full frontal nudity male and female than any Super Bowl halftime show imaginable. The tantalizing drama explores the lives of several emotionally challenged characters as they navigate love and sex in an underground club in New York City. And there are oodles of nifty cameos, including a performance by Justin Bond (aka Kiki of Kiki and Herb), pictured. Get a sneak peek as Dallas Voice sponsors a complimentary screening on Tuesday.
Angelika-Dallas, 5321 East Mockingbird Lane. Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Print your own screening pass after registering at CampusCircle.net/screening/Txshortbus.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 6, 2006.