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  • Lance Mannion
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« Because she knows how much I love this movie... | Main | The stuff that dreams are made of »


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That's a really interesting essay, especially since your interpretations are just about completely different from mine. Still, your writing is persuasive enough that I'll probably remember it through your eyes.

One caveat, though. You write: "Given Costigan's [DiCaprio's] situation, it would be dangerous for him to trust anyone too easily, and it's no wonder that the only other character he seems to like and trust to any degree is Nicholson's Francis Costello, the man Costigan's meant to destroy." Actually, the one guy he does seem to like and trust is Martin Sheen, playing the kind patriarch character of Oliver Queenan. When he's murdered, Costigan becomes literally unmoored.


I enjoyed the film well enough, and Scorsese might get finally get that Oscar he deserved for Raging Bull and/or Goodfella. (Dances with Wolves? Seriously?) Or maybe not. Wouldn't be shocked either way.

My issue with Nicholson wasn't the hamminess, it was that a star of his magnitude and a performer of his wattage unbalanced the film somewhat. I would have preferred that more attention be made to the parallel lives of Costigan and Sullivan. It's built into the structure of the piece and yet there wasn't that interplay here. Although both should have been preoccupied with finding their counterpart, I didn't feel it until after Nicholson (and Sheen) were gone. Before that, Costigan's and Sullivan's primary obsessions were with the father figure and not with each other. Even when they finally meet, there wasn't that moment of recognition. Casting Costello as more of a secondary lead would have allowed that dynamic to come to the fore.

Beyond that, it was nicely acted and well-assembled, but I often felt Scorsese was just going through the motions. (The music selections in particular felt pretty rote to me.) The plot was rather lumpy and could have had a stronger sense of place, beyond the accents. It lacked the ethnographic component of a Goodfellas. Scorsese's made comments to the press about this being a post-9/11 film, but it lacks any real political or social consciousness. It's just a pretty standard genre film and HK remake, dressed in A-list trappings by a filmmaker and performers who can do a lot better.

And, honestly, Marky Mark's performance was enjoyably perverse, but way overrated, awards season-wise. I just don't know what's up with that.

Kit Stolz

Everyone seems to agree that this isn't Scorcese's best work, but it does seem to be his best chance at winning Best Director. A Hollywood friend of mine argues that this is actually not a mistake, in that Scorcese's complete mastery of the form is best seen when he's not trying to re-invent the wheel. (Can't we all agree that Scorcese got robbed when he didn't win the Oscar for "Raging Bull?" He lost to Robert Benton for "Kramer vs. Kramer," for crying out loud.) Personally, I think it's a little sad that Scorcese's biggest movie to date is one of his least ambitious.

But it's an interesting argument.

harry near indy

i gave up on the oscars as a measurement of quality when this movie, starring paul newman and robert redford, and directed by george roy hill, won the oscar for best picture.

it wasn't butch cassidy and the sundance kid. it was the sting.

i'd recommend all you reading this to please do the same asap.

i read that nicholson was kinda hammy in the departed. i haven't seen the movie, so i can't say. but if you want to see nicholson underplay, i'd recommend that you see about schmidt and the pledge.

and lance -- how hammy is nicholson in this movie, compared to when he played the joker in the first batman movie?


"(Can't we all agree that Scorcese got robbed when he didn't win the Oscar for "Raging Bull?" He lost to Robert Benton for "Kramer vs. Kramer," for crying out loud.) "

Actually he lost to Robert Redford for Ordinary People. Still highway robbery though.

I'm glad you singled out Damon's performance though. He's one of the most chilling villains I've ever seen in a movie, because his total lack of any moral core is so obvious to the viewer, but he manages to fool everyone around him. Certainly the most convincing depiction of a sociopath I've ever seen.


Nicholson was only "kinda hammy"?

He was completely ludicrous! He was a ham delivery van with extra hams tied to the roof, pulling a trailer full of ham.


"DiCaprio does a brilliant job of placing Billy Costigan in a line of movie detectives whose neuroses almost overwhelm their heroism and practically make them the chief villain in their own story"

No, Dicaprio essentially fails in the role. In the first place, because Dicaprio is simply too young for the role (and Dicaprio is very young looking even for 33), Scorcese had to reduce the time that the moles are undercover from 10 years (in Infernal Affairs) to 1 year (in The Departed). That's why Dicaprio's protestations and angst that "he doesn't understand if he's a cop anymore" don't make sense - it's only been a matter of months, not years. In the original film, those protestations do make sense, because the character has effectively spent his entire adulthood as a gangster - it's unclear whether he actually can be anything else. And Tony Leung is clearly middle-aged (he was 40 during Infernal Affairs' filming), as opposed to Dicaprio's Costigan's implied age of 19(!) (they mention Costigan's SAT scores and high school grades in the movie). Also, it's much less surprising in the original why the gangster trusts the mole so (well, because he's been with the gang for 10 years) versus The Departed's contortions to make Costello trust Costigan so quickly.


burrito, the plot discrepancies are director's / writers' fault, not Dicaprio's, dontcha think?

DC Morgan

I'd just like to say thank you for finally explaining this movie to me. I've been a little bit obsessed over the past week or so trying to figure out exactly what was so great about this movie. I walked out a little disappointed, growing moreso the more I thought about it. I thought it was a horrible story with some moves that shouldn't have made it past the cutting room propped up by some amazing acting performances.

And when I tell people this, I come off like Peter Griffin explaining why he doesn't like The Godfather.

I think the issue is that I'm looking at it from a writer's point of view, and not a stage/cinema writer, either.


The accents employed by almost all of the principal actors in this film were laughable. Matt Damon (and I thought he was FROM Boston) and company go in and out of fakey, Kennedy-esque caricatures of Booahhston ahhccents which is teerribly distrahhcting. Hire a dialog coach and make your actors do it right. I don't care how big a star they are. This was just sloppy and obviously under-rehearsed.

Mark Wahlberg was so over-the-top as to be unbelievable. Would any office in the police department employ someone who constantly (CONSTANTLY, mind you), constantly insults, screams at, and picks fights with everyone he works with? Is Alec Baldwin believable on any role at all any more? Do we need to watch Nicholson mugging a la Jack in The Shining reprising the role of "Crazy Jack Nicholson"?

Overall, kinda good but disappointing. It's better than Little Miss Sunshine, and Scorcese's overdue for an Oscar, so it'll probably win best picture.

tweezy for sheezy

This film was created by one of the best directors ever, one of the top production teams, and some of the better actors working today and you believe they forgot to hire a dialogue coach?
Considering that a lot of folks from Boston found the accents satisfying, if not perfect, maybe your "sloppy and obviously under-rehearsed" comment is sloppy itself.

Rosie Powell

This is an interesting essay, but I don't think I completely agree with your assessment of the film. I won't say that THE DEPARTED was Scorcese's best movie, but I do believe that it was one of his most unusual. And it seemed to be one of his few rare movies that has a solid ending . . . something that I cannot say for GOOD FELLAS and CASINO.

As for the bloodlust in the end, it's just typical Scorcese . . . but without the usual music soundtrack.


The problem with Nicholson's performance was not that he was playing Costello as playing Costello; it was that he was Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson as playing Francis Costello playing Francis Costello.
He's played almost nothing but a caricature of himself for thirty years. Sure, he can be an amusing scenery chewer, but that's all he is.

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