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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To See or Not to See: The Departed

by Jan Stetter

It’s not a Who done it. It’s a Who is it. That’s the question that will keep you in suspense and at the edge of your seat while watching the movie The Departed. Set in Boston, the story involves two opposing sides of the law infiltrating each other’s realm.

The Departed is a Martin Scorsese film clocking in at 149 minutes. Kudos to Mr. Scorsese for directing a movie that finally is less than epic proportions yet will remain a blockbuster due to its fine cast and puissant storyline. With actors like Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and the convincingly miscreant Jack Nicholson, how could it not be a winner?

At the root of this story are two local boys – both graduates of the police academy. One, Matt Damon, rises through the ranks as a promising addition to the Classified Organized Crime Unit. The other, a fellow graduate with a suspect family history (DiCaprio) is persuaded to go underground as a mole. He agrees to work for the head kingpin of the Irish mob led by none other than Jack Nicholson a.k.a. Frank Costello. In reality, Matt Damon’s character has been groomed since adolescence as a mob “son”. He is supported by Frank Costello with the expectation that, upon employment, Damon will filter classified information back to the mob.

What separates this movie from the age old story of good versus evil is that you never quite know who is on the side of evil or good. And, does it really matter, as asked by Nicholson’s character: “When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals. What I'm saying is this: When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?” Now imagine these lines said by Jack in his finest form, and you are in for a treat. Fans of Jack Nicholson will revel in his nuanced performance and, at times, blatant appeal of a masochistic criminal.

Alec Baldwin entertains us as the head of the Special Crime Unit. The dialogue is witty, smart and he delivers it with convincing Irish “Everyman Boston” conviction. Likewise, Mark Wahlberg conveys his hometown’s dialect and streetwise attitude. Matt Damon as a clean cut infiltrator who is challenged by the question of loyalty versus being kept alive is credible. Yet it is Leo DiCaprio who most impresses with this role. No longer can he be seen as a pretty boy. His gritty, physical, calculating performance amidst turns of frightening paranoia has parlayed this actor into the echelon of great actors.

Lest this movie be too glorified, it must be stated that it is extremely graphic and violent. If actors are being paid to act and tell a story, can anything be left to our imaginations? Must blood and guts literally be sprayed across the screen to convince us that being shot in the head will kill us?

As good as this movie is ask yourself if graphic violence enhances this movie or just serves to desensitize the audience?


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