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October 4-10, 2006

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'The Departed'

Photograph by Andrew Cooper
Are we in the same movie? Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon interpret the seriousness of the script for 'The Departed' in very different ways.

Rat Patrol

'The Departed' is Martin Scorsese's long and crazy remake of short and baffling Hong Kong thriller 'Infernal Affairs'

By Richard von Busack

THE SOURCE for Martin Scorsese's The Departed is Infernal Affairs, another Asian movie Miramax bought and then sat on like a hen trying to hatch a doorknob. Never have I seen a movie more like a chess game. The sturdy plot translates well enough to anchor Jack Nicholson as he floats around like a balloon in a windstorm. Over the top? Since when has Nicholson recognized the concept of a top? Playing the Joker or Satan in The Witches of Eastwick? His Frank Costello is based slightly on Boston's crime boss Whitey Bulger. But Costello is a man after his own heart—a gangster, aesthete and pervert—spitting cognac on a drawing that fails to please him, attending the opera with a brace of whores or making a rodent's fleer of his teeth to show what a "cheese-eatin' rat bastard" looks like.

Nicholson's widens the gangster's appeal, to not just as a man who gets to indulge himself with food, sex, booze and a salad bowl full of cocaine. He is also a man who savors hate speech, who asks underage girls if they're menstruating yet or who tells a gang of Chinese criminals, "No tickee, no laundry." The Departed is so postmodern it falls off the bone. Watching Nicholson fuck around may irritate people who take their gangster movies seriously.

Costello gets the big idea to put a mole (Matt Damon) into the Massachusetts State Police academy. Simultaneously, without knowledge they've been breached, the cops pretend to fire a cadet (Leonardo DiCaprio) and place him into the ranks of Costello's men. The two keep almost discovering each other—each side growing more furious at the leaks in their security, until finally the two double agents have it out.

The Departed has the sense of a 14-hour movie carved down to a fraction. What's left is the unedifying scene of Damon having a crisis of conscience (Damon thinking of something is pretty much as close as cinema comes to minimalist painting), DiCaprio being torn apart by duplicity (with all the anxiety of a Midwesterner losing his car keys) and Mark Wahlberg, as one of the police, with a Hitler hair cut, showing us just what a hard-on he can be.

As a police psychiatrist, Vera Farmiga has wide, shocked peepers and as pretty a down-turned mouth as anyone since Isabelle Adjani, but she can't make something out of nothing (a useful skill for today's actresses). How she ended up as the point of a love triangle is just as inexplicable as why the Boston State Police are sending their supersecret mole to a police shrink, where he might be seen.

Except for a chase through a neon, rainy Chinatown, where the glass shards of a wind chime reflects a killer's face, The Departed has an almost televisionistic background. Damon's fancy condo—which should have tipped off his bosses—has a backdrop of downtown Boston that's as flat as a billboard. Damon knows he's in a serious study of good and evil. Nicholson thinks he's in a gore-tinged comedy of errors and leaves us with a last bloody smile. Guess who's right? I'd also mention the hilarious Alec Baldwin as a cop sweating through his polyester shirts, probably out of sheer love of chasing the game. When he refers to Costello as "the movie star," he probably has a better handle on what's going in The Departed than Damon or DiCaprio.

Movie Times The Departed (R; 148 min.), directed by Martin Scorsese, written by William Monahan, photographed by Michael Ballhaus and starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, plays valleywide.

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