Directed by:Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin
Rated: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material.
Parental Notes: There’s violence and language aplenty here, as well as drug content and some sex. The violence is frequently cruel and brutal, as well as graphic. This is not a movie for youngsters at all.
“The Departed” is one of those films that feels a good deal more significant while you are watching it than it does once it’s over. It has a stellar, all-star cast, sharp dialog, clever and artistic camera work, lots of black humor, and is thoroughly gritty and realistic-looking. Unfortunately, it lacks character development, any sort of point or moral, and a solid ending. The ending almost feels as though the writers ran out of ideas and came up with this out of desperation.
The story is thoroughly convoluted. In South Boston, the State Police (“staties”) have insinuated an undercover cop, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) into the local mob run by Frankie Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy has come up through the ranks and is one of Costello’s most trusted minions. Costello, meanwhile, has insinuated a mole into the State Police: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) are the only two people who know Billy is really a statie; Costello is the only one who knows Colin is a really a crook.
Costello becomes suspicious that there’s a rat in his crew just as the staties are ramping up their investigation into how information is leaking out of the department. Colin finds himself assigned to find the mole in the staties even as Costello is riding him to find the rat in the mob. Billy is told by Queenan that Costello has a mole in the staties, and starts trying to find out who it is. Just to make things a little more complex, Colin is dating Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), the police psychiatrist who is assigned to Billy.
At this point, midway through the film, the story resembles a juggling team tossing a wide variety of items through the air. It’s fascinating to watch as the two sides play against each other, with the respective moles searching for their opposites. The actors are all in fine form; Nicholson has even adopted a Boston accent, which helps us watch him act rather than just see him as himself for two hours. Unfortunately, as the end approaches, the jugglers starts dropping items. Or maybe throwing them into the audience to startle us.
The closest thing the film has to a moral is something Costello says early on: “When I was your age, they would say you could become a cop or you could become a criminal. What I’m saying is this: When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” There does seem to be little difference between the staties and the criminals they are combating. Both are prone to fits of violence, though the staties usually pull the fighting men apart before they do too much damage. Both use warped ethics (as when Colin tricks a man in statie custody into thinking he’s the man’s lawyer, so he can get information from him) and both seek revenge when they’ve been wronged.
But is that the only point Scorsese has to make? This is hardly a new concept; a quick viewing of any number of gangster films will give you the same idea. There isn’t much in the way of character development or study. It’s hard to latch onto something in the film to figure out what its point is. The fact that the final scene of the film amounts to a deus ex machina doesn’t help.
“The Departed” is certainly absorbing; it’s hard not to be drawn in when master actors are practicing their craft together, even if the story itself has flaws. Ultimately, though, the film is unsatisfying because it has no point to make, and ends on a truly hopeless and despairing note.