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Review: The Departed

Published October 5, 2006 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Bros Pictures.
The Departed The Departed
The Departed is tolerable for some highly entertaining performances, but it’s just the same old cops and mobsters crap. Even with Scorsese’s flourish for violence and filmic technique, the story itself is just dull. It’s an interesting premise but it plays out in the most banal way possible..

The Departed Review


The Boston mob has a mole in the police. The police have an undercover agent in the mob. Neither know about each other. That should be two and a half hours of pure tension, but until the third act, it never seems like anyone is ever in any danger of being found out. Instead, it’s all the standard machinations of proving oneself to the mob boss and keeping the cops on a wild goose chase.

Without Jack Nicholson, there’d be no movie at all. He brings his classic Jack charisma to the mob boss. Although he’s never quite as edgy as when he’s hitting on a teenage girl in the prologue, he remains joyfully inappropriate. Even showier than Nicholson is Mark Wahlberg, who plays a ball busting police chief with a zeal worthy of Jack. It’s all about taking shots at his underlings who can’t do the job right, who whine about how hard their life is. He’s Mr. Wake Up Call.

Next to these guys, none of the other actors hold up. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio look scared the whole movie. Maybe they’re supposed to be in their tense situations, but they’re also supposed to be playing undercover. Some badassness was required. DiCaprio does a little Joe Pesci style violence early on, but it never amounts to anything.

The soundtrack is typically great Scorsese choices, full of oldies. He cuts the music in the middle for drama, but by that point there’s not much story to emphasize. The first act plays like Goodfellas 2000 with Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) fighting his way into the mob. What’s missing is any sense of fun.



Why should we care about cops and mobsters? They’re bad guys, the cops can’t catch them, that’s life. Why should we want to spend more than two hours in this world? In previous epics, we’re treated to the seduction of either such world before it turns to sh*t. Or even if it’s just cops and bad guys, there’s some real danger that needs to be thwarted. This is so contained to a specific neighborhood, it doesn’t seem like it’s hurting anyone worthwhile. It’s just procedural.

When Billy starts freaking out about how deep he’s gotten, we don’t actually see how deep he is. They say he’s been in for a year, but we’ve only seen him play act. He takes a beating or two, but that’s part of the job. There’s no real threat to him. Sure, if he gets found out, they’ll kill him slow, but we haven’t seen them get close or make any threats on him outside the usual “hanging with the mob” stuff

Likewise, even when corrupt cop Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) gets charged with finding the mole, who is actually himself, it seems like he’s set. If they’re dumb enough not to suspect him, should we really worry that he needs to generate results? It’s close to two hours before either side gets remotely close to uncovering each other.

There should be so many interesting dilemmas, but like the original Infernal Affairs, it muddles in standard mob deals and police investigations, nothing you can’t see on any handful of TV shows. Why not give each side some painful decisions to make. Donnie Brasco had to beat the hell out of a total innocent to keep his ruse going. The Shield has tougher decisions every week.

Along the way there are some competent action and suspense moments. Foot chases tailing each other create visual suspense and shootouts still manage to surprise well-versed gangster movie viewers, at least the first few times heads explode. The ending is pretty outrageous for a Hollywood movie but you don’t get two and a half hours to set that up.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros Pictures.
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