THE DEPARTED (2006). Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Whatever strings were pulled behind the scenes, Martin Scorsese managed to pull off a real con on both the critics and public, for this picture – almost universally, if sometimes reservedly, acclaimed – is decidedly mediocre despite an excellent premise [borrowed from a foreign film] and some exciting sequences. Basically the mobster Frank Costello – more on that name later – plants an admiring young man whom he helped early in life (Matt Damon) in the Boston police department while the latter follow suit by depositing a young undercover officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the Costello camp. Late in the picture – when at last the suspense kicks in to a degree – these two men try to ferret out the identity of the other, with the expected violent results. The main trouble with the film is that this is supposed to be a thriller but the eternally over-rated Scorsese has never been in the same league as Alfred Hitchcock. There is only one stand-out sequence involving the bad guys closing in on a building wherein superior officer Martin Sheen is meeting with his Man On the Inside and a somewhat startling, well-handled homicide ensues. Otherwise the film isn't really awful, just a bit dull and predictable and certainly devoid of the tense and brilliant touches that a Hitchcock could have delivered.
Another problem is the screenplay and its utterly one-dimensional characters. Some older viewers may be confused in the beginning, remembering the real-life mobster Frank Costello who reigned in the fifties and sixties and wondering why the characters use cell phones throughout the movie and even refer to recent events. Jack Nicholson's “Frank Costello” may have been inspired by the real Costello, but clearly he is a different and fictional person of the 21st century. The “good guys” of the film casually use such terms as “nigger” and “faggot” but the superficial screenplay never explores the inferiority complexes that make people use such discriminatory words in the first place. [Unlike television, this movie basically depicts police officers as all being the desensitized bigots of earlier decades.] Jack Nicholson gives a showy, entertaining performance, but it is essentially another variation of The Joker. The younger actors, yelling out curse words and throwing tantrums, give good performances, but all the tiresome macho posturing is the easiest kind of acting to do. Since there are no real nuances to their characters, the actors aren't able to add subtleties to their performances, assuming this is something they're even capable of. That being said, Mark Wahlberg is very effective as an especially obnoxious police officer and Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin are as solid as ever. In the lead roles DiCaprio and Damon are impressive enough in their swagger but never quite overwhelmingly excellent.
Because of the rave reviews-- and then four Oscar wins -- people flocked to see The Departed. But I have no doubt many of them left the theater thinking that the latest episode of say, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit had a better story, more dimensional characters, and moved at a swifter and more slickly edited pace. Far from being “cutting edge,” Scorsese – and his adoring critics – are slightly out of date.
Verdict: They really don't make 'em like they used to. **.