Monday, October 30, 2006

THE DEPARTED: Scorsese's Scorcher

THE DEPARTED (crime thriller)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg
Director: Martin Scorsese
Time: 148 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Those who have seen the 2002 Hong Kong 'cat-and-mole' epic may get a sense of deja vu watching this Hollywood remake of Infernal Affairs. But despite setting the action in Boston (instead of Hong Kong), director Martin Scorsese and scripter William Monahan remain faithful to the original Infernal Affairs plot by Alan Mak Siu Fai and Felix Chong. The Departed, about the tussle between Boston police and the Irish mob led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), is just as gritty and violent as the original. The one irritant viewers may find about the movie is the lame Malaysian censorship attempt which sometimes leaves the 'F-words' intact while deleting the innocent phrases.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? The story is about two police recruits, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who both start out their lives among Boston's Irish-American community which is 'ruled' by mobster Costello. Always planning ahead, Costello has taken Sullivan under his wing since he was a boy (by buying him a bag of groceries). Sullivan is 'enrolled' in the police academy so that he can be Costello's 'mole' in the police force. Costigan, on the other hand, is more of a rabble-rouser who wants to escape the criminal life he has been linked to. Ironically, after graduating as a cop, he is hand-picked by his bosses (Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg) to infiltrate Costello's set-up so that the police can get enough information to nail the kingpin.
The tension and suspense in this high-stakes game begin when both Sullivan and Costigan realise that there is a mole in the other's organisation and each is assigned to flush him out. There is also a romantic touch here with both Sullivan and Costigan involved with psychiatrist Dr Madolyn (Vera Farmiga in the Kelly Chen role) – without the other being the wiser.
This pot-boiler comes full steam in almost the same way as the Hong Kong version – making us wonder if Scorsese, or other Hollywood moguls, would also do a remake of “Infernal Affairs 2”, the prequel.

HIGHLIGHTS: Now, maybe it is because I am more accustomed to movies in English than Cantonese but The Departed is definitely more of a seat-gripper than Infernal Affairs. While the Hong Kong version had its top stars like Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in the lead, they could not garner as much audience sympathy as DiCaprio and Damon do here. We root for both of them, especially in their 'secret' affair with Dr Madolyn.
And then there is Nicholson who is deliciously maniacal as Costello (we expect no less of him). Wahlberg's foul-mouth Sgt Dignam has only a few scenes but he manages to heat up the screen whenever he appears. Famiga provides the tender sequences if only to remind us that the players are human and in need of affection. (In the HK version, Kelly Chen had been rather 'distracting' as Dr Lee).

LOWLIGHTS: Some of the action sequences are disconcertingly brutal. Scorsese has no qualms about splattering blood all over the screen and this can be a put-off. Plus, the movie is long-drawn and could have been cut down to just over two hours.

THE LOWDOWN: As usual, Scorsese uses some familiar tunes on the soundtrack to 'colour' his palate, most notably the Rolling Stone's Gimme Shelter and Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Yes, The Departed marks a welcome return of a director known for making waves in the cinema. And this is definitely also one of his best efforts.


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