THE DEPARTED (2006)

Departed234Our most recent Oscars film as part of our red carpet roulette project was The Departed, an American crime drama from 2006 directed by Martin Scorsese. I have to say, the first thing I commented on as we were watching this movie was the all-star cast. I looked at Mouse with each new person on the screen and said, “Wait – he’s in it too?!”

Indeed, it is chock full of heavyweights – Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin. A story about Irish mob boss Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson) in Boston, the film was a success both critically and at the box office. While I am not a fan of many of his political ideas, Marky Mark is fan-freakin-tastic in this. He is so Boston I can’t handle it. It’s a film about loyalty, infiltration, trust, family, and ambition. I was prepared to not really care that much about this film, but I have to say it is one of my favorites that we’ve watched so far.

I did have one looming question, though: in a film with so many heavyweight stars, why did they cast a woman who was not nearly as famous as the lead? Vera Farmiga plays Madolyn Madden, the love interest of both Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio). She’s great in the role, but this question did occur to me. Also, as ever, I wished in this epic film that there were more roles for women and that Madolyn herself was better developed.

So much Irish. So much Boston. Are you not clear about that? Just to be sure, we’re going to play Dropkick Murphys and put a shirt on Nicholson that says IRISH.

OK, let’s talk about Marky Mark, since you brought him up. I don’t fault Wahlberg’s acting. If you want a wicked accurate portrayal of a tough Bostonian, whom else would you call? But there’s something about the character of Dignam that I found overblown to the point of being distracting. He’s a ‘tough cop’, the guy who got here by way of hard work and street smarts, not education and high connections. I get it. But at some point I found myself wondering “How does someone this incessantly abrasive get himself into this extremely sensitive position on the police force?”

The central premise of the movie is killer – of two moles from opposing camps gradually realizing each other’s existence. And I love how DiCaprio and Damon act out the two partners in this dance. Sullivan puts on the airs of an educated, upwardly mobile professional, but he is at heart a rotten hood. Costigan is no overachiever, just a slouchy guy from the neighborhood who says he wants to do good. But he has a heroic character, operating on his own behind enemy lines. After they literally cross paths early in the movie, they meet later in my favorite scene: when Sullivan uses Queenan’s phone to call Costigan. The two men hold their phones silently, each unable to turn away from their faceless nemesis, but unwilling to out their own identity by speaking.

Dignam certainly has his moment at the end, ambushing Sullivan. Damon plays his reaction perfectly: slightly surprised, then a resigned, fatalistic “OK”. At long last, his time has come and he knows it. But then there’s the rat. The literal rat that scurries across the screen. In front of the skyline with the Massachusetts State House. An actual rat crawls in front of the state house. Now, I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be subtle, that it was intended as a visual joke. But, let’s just say I find it one of Scorsese’s less easily defended choices in this film.

The scene where they hold their phones silently is, quite frankly, one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever seen on film. The tension! Both actors do a fantastic job. I am not quite sure what I expected to happen; I don’t think I had any idea. Damon’s fatalistic okay, as you put it, did surprise me a little. I figured the two might spar right then and there, or settle it the way you’d figure they would back on the old neighborhood streets.

I don’t find it that unbelievable that an extremely abrasive person would have a sensitive position, per Mouse’s comment about Wahlberg’s character. I mean, look at who the president of our country currently is. LOLSOB.

The other thread of the story that is kind of interesting to me is that Nicholson functions as a father figure of sorts for both Damon and DiCaprio – in the case of DiCaprio, though, he ultimately doesn’t need that kind of a father, rejects it, and steps out on his own. He kind of lures them in; he provides a security and plays a role that men like Sullivan (Damon) seem to hunger for. I am an unabashed Nicholson fan and I thought he was, per usual, a joy to watch in this. He just has the je ne sais quois that is just – Nicholson. He was utter perfection in this role.

Costello is a sort of father figure in the story, as is his counterpart Queenan. DiCaprio, playing a young guy working his way into a mobster’s crew with a secret agenda, is working similar themes to Gangs of New York, his previous collaboration with the director. Stylistically, this was in the vein of Goodfellas, with its jukebox score and unromantic portrayal of organized crime. And this seems like a good time to talk about The Departed’s place in Scorsese’s body of work.

It’s probably uncontroversial to call Martin Scorsese one of the great filmmakers of our time. He is the director of three movies on the AFI top 100 list. None of these won the big prize, nor has any other movie he directed. Not that I can think of a superior movie from 2006, but do you think this award was intended for the movie or the career?

Of all the “film greats” I hear about over and over, Scorsese’s works that I have seen have probably transported me the most. I think in this film especially, he asks a lot of the viewer – and I appreciate that. I felt this film called us in to think about loyalty, family, bravery, sacrifice, and community. I wonder, though, if Scorsese has any films with truly well developed female characters. This certainly wasn’t it for me, and I am trying to rack my brain to think of another. I just wonder so much if men, even (and maybe especially) those who do artful jobs of conveying a range of human emotion in their artistic work otherwise, even notion when women and girls aren’t in the mix except as foils to male characters. It gets me every time, even though it’s nothing new.

On a lighter note, I had to giggle at the end scene of the film because it reminded me so much of the Saturday Night Live “Dear Sister” skit. If you’ve seen both, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you should.

DiCaprio is the character I rooted for most throughout this film, but Nicholson was (as ever) the most transfixing to watch. I’d love to see this one again soon, and I would also love to read other critiques of this work.

I think there is something of an inherently male viewpoint to his work. And there are definitely some misfires in his filmography. But the highlights…oh man. What if he had died without ever winning an Oscar?

One recurring element in Mr. Scorcese’s movies is scenes of great violence, particularly in their concluding acts, and as Katy stated The Departed does not deviate from this trend. This part of the movie dangled dangerously close to the edge for me. “Dear Sister” is comedy by intent. The Scorcesian bloodbath in the last half hour of The Departed sometimes veers close to feeling like farce, sans any discernible intent of such.

I really appreciate when films work hard to portray crime realistically. I also like when they just go right over the top (say, Robocop or Pulp Fiction). What I don’t dig so much is when movies try to split the difference- this is the problem I kept having with Boardwalk Empire.

Well, join us next time, when we’ll be discussing  a movie so realistic in its depiction of crime and law enforcement, it should be a documentary for aspiring criminologists.

Also nominated in 2006:
Babel
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Next film: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

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