‘The Departed’: extraordinary 

Can this cast really be this good?

click to enlarge NICHOLSON AND DICAPRIO: Perfect.

“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” So dictates Irish mafia boss Frank Costello in the opening of Martin Scorsese’s extraordinary film “The Departed.” The film, Scorsese’s first venture back into the life of the mafia underworld since “Casino,” is one of his best. Like “Mean Streets” and “Goodfellas” before it, “The Departed” is sharp and violent and the cast — one of the best ever assembled — is perfect.

“The Departed” is an adaptation of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs.” The film stars Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio as two Boston state troopers — one good, one not so good. Damon is Colin Sullivan, the not-so-good trooper who after being groomed by Costello, has climbed the ranks of the state police force as a member of the elite Special Investigations Unit. SIU’s task: Bring down Costello. Sullivan’s task: Stop them.

At the same time Damon is trying desperately to save Costello, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) is working to bring him down. Costigan has infiltrated Costello’s gang thanks to a family tree comprised almost wholly of thugs.

These two characters are in constant motion around the other. For every tip Sullivan provides to Costello, Costigan provides the same to Detective Queenan, played by the always good Martin Sheen. This is a cat-and-mouse game and these two men are chasing each other in the dark.

The film takes place in Boston and it helps that a Boston-native wrote it. William Monahan, who also penned the script for “Kingdom of Heaven,” is in his element here. The dialogue is piercing, particularly when Staff Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) is on screen. “Feds are like mushrooms. Feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark,” he says.

Damon and DiCaprio are two of the finest actors working today and they are at the top of their game here. But the real star is Jack Nicholson. As Frank Costello, Nicholson reprises the role of a lunatic so wonderfully you cannot help but be in awe. He is clearly the film’s lead and his performance, his best since “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is deliciously devious.

And while the plot revolves around Damon, DiCaprio and Nicholson, supporting roles by Wahlberg, Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Vera Farmiga make it complete. Wahlberg is better than I’ve ever seen him. Sheen, while hard to disassociate from his role on “The West Wing,” is also good. Nothing is funnier than when Wahlberg and Baldwin are on screen together. Their inappropriate verbal exchanges are so natural, you want to think it’s OK to talk the way that they do.

But the best supporting performance comes from Farmiga, a relatively unknown actor who was last seen in “The Manchurian Candidate.” She dazzles as Madolyn, a police psychiatrist who treats Costigan and is involved with Sullivan. This is absurd coincidence, but it’s not worth dwelling on.

Music by Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Van Morrison, Roger Waters, the Band and more enhances the film’s critical scenes.

“The Departed” comes to a swift and violent conclusion as Sullivan and Costigan discover the other. But what happens is not what you expect. The film’s title indicates that people will die, and plenty do. Scorsese holds nothing back, and for fans of his work you will be grateful.

But what makes the film is not the violence, but its perfectly placed cast. Unlike the recent “All the King’s Men,” which miscast everyone in the film, “The Departed” showcases some of the best talent of this generation.

While watching DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson it is hard not to think about another mafia film. “The Godfather” in 1972 showcased what was to come from Al Pacino and Robert Duvall and served as an exclamation point to the career of Marlon Brando. While the two films are distinctly different, the performances in “The Departed” conjure a similar question: Are these guys that good?

I think so.

— Blake Rutherford

Only the true lovers of indie films will enjoy the subtle comedy-drama “Factotum,” which offers up nice acting from the ever-growing, ever-improving Matt Dillon, and some complementary good work from Lili Taylor, but is nevertheless a hard story to digest.

The film follows Hank Chinaski (Dillon) around from job to job — he’s fired from the first one we see him in, working as an inattentive truck driver — while he writes on the side and sends his short stories to The New Yorker and other magazines in hopes of getting published.

Chinaski is the fictional alter-ego of “Factotum” author Charles Bukowski. It might help to know something about Bukowski before you go in.

Fine character actors are sprinkled throughout Bent Hamer’s film, and Hank’s various job stopovers and screwups with bosses — and a doozy blowup with his father — are amusing. He moves in with Taylor’s character, Jan, and they sex it up and booze it up and are pretty much worthless, until he seemingly tires of all that.

Hank hooks up with Laura (Marisa Tomei) briefly, she being the part-time kept woman of some nutty rich guy who has a couple of other women hanging around his place as well. But Hank feels the need to rekindle things with Jan, who has since landed a job as a chambermaid. Will they find love; will Hank get published?

It’s fascinating indie screen stuff, but it won’t be overly enlightening. It may prompt you to learn about or read Bukowski. It is a Dillon like you haven’t seen, though, and that alone might make it worth it.

— Jim Harris



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