"Punishing the Wicked and the Faithless"
Martin Scorsese is the world’s most over-rated director, but he undeniably has lots of filmmaking talent. That talent shines brilliantly in his new police thriller, THE DEPARTED, an American remake of an Award-winning Hong Kong thriller titled INFERNAL AFFAIRS. Despite some story problems, and a longer-than-necessary running time, the movie works wonderfully, if you can stomach the constant foul language. (Ironically, the original Chinese movie had only seven mostly light obscenities. Guess how many Scorsese’s movie has?)
THE DEPARTED stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as two new Irish recruits for the Massachusetts State Police. DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, and Damon plays Colin Sullivan.
Billy is immediately shifted into the force’s undercover ranks, to spy on a mean, violent gangster, Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson), from Billy’s old Irish neighborhood in South Boston. Except for his father, Billy’s family is known for being petty criminals, so Billy is able to fit right in with Costello’s mob. Only Billy’s two superiors in the undercover unit, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam, played by Mark Wahlberg, know Billy’s true identity. They have given Billy a criminal past to ease Costello’s suspicions. Billy is supposed to be a street-smart, tough guy from a criminal family whose violent temper cost him his badge and landed him in prison. Back on the streets, Billy ingratiates himself into Costello’s gang, but not before Costello tortures his broken hand a little to make sure he’s not working for the cops.
Colin, also from South Boston, actually works as a spy for Costello in the State Police’s elite Special Investigations Unit, or SIU. Colin secretly helps Costello stay one step ahead of the SIU by leaking information to him.
Eventually, Colin and Costello figure out that there’s a spy in their gang, and Billy and the State Police figure out that there’s a Costello spy in the SIU. Only Captain Queenan and Sergeant Dignam stand in the way of Colin finding out that Billy is the spy in Costello’s gang. There ensues a complicated cat-and-mouse game which leaves everyone’s nerves on edge. Some clever plot twists spice up the action.
The plot in THE DEPARTED is even more complicated than the plot in the original Chinese movie. The thick Boston accents are also a bit hard to follow, especially at first. But, despite the almost constant foul language, the directing and acting are brilliant, as is the dramatic conflict and conflicting personalities between the well-developed characters.
Another problem with the story, however, is that, since the plot is so complicated, there seem to be some significant plot holes. For example, both Billy and Colin come from South Boston and have special knowledge about Costello’s criminal activities. So, it’s hard to believe that they never really ran into one another while growing up. The movie tries to cover up this plot hole by having Costello being the only one who contacts Colin and by having Captain Queenan and Sergeant Dignam being the only ones who contact Billy. This doesn’t quite work, however, because both Billy and Colin come from South Boston. Of course, South Boston is a big place, but it stretches credulity to believe that, because they both know Costello and both trained at the Police Academy at relatively the same time, Billy wouldn’t suspect Colin and Colin wouldn’t suspect Billy.
Be that as it may, the direction, editing, cinematography, acting, and characterizations are so strong that the movie sweeps the viewer past these script problems and plot problems. All the actors do a great job, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg as Billy and Sergeant Dignam are particularly outstanding. Naturally, Jack Nicholson has the flashiest role. Though he gives one of his best performances, we’ve seen this kind of role from him before. Even so, he’s still fun to watch. Also, just because an actor does a role that’s similar to others he has done before does not mean that the particular role in question shouldn’t be judged on its own merits. John Wayne, for instance, played similar kinds of heroic roles in his career, but the amount of complex variation he accomplishes within many of those roles is a joy to behold.
Thus, overall, everything works well in THE DEPARTED. Until, that is, the end, when the movie begins to wear out its welcome with multiple endings. Most people probably won’t notice these multiple endings, because they all involve action and violence. Consequently, they may not be as noticeable or irritating to most people as the multiple endings in, for instance, THE RETURN OF THE KING were to some. Scorsese probably will get a pass from critics on this problem, because they unjustly rate him too highly, but the problem of multiple endings is a genuine flaw.
Although THE DEPARTED seems to side with the three good cops, Billy and his two earnest superiors, the movie’s story takes place in a dark, violent world. In that fallen world, people can’t be trusted and the police must sometimes do questionable things in order to put away the bad guys. And, make no mistake about it. Frank Costello is a very bad guy, as is his main henchman, a man nicknamed Mr. French, played ruthlessly by Ray Winstone. At one important point, one of the three good cops must resort to a morally questionable act of vigilante justice. This act makes one of the movie’s main moral points, however – that, ultimately, you can only get away with murder and mayhem for a certain length of time. Eventually, justice will be served, and the wicked and the faithless will get what they deserve.
Scorsese and his screenwriter, William Monahan, insert some positive references to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and some Christian funeral scenes, to complement this moral theme. Thus, THE DEPARTED has a strong Christian worldview, from a Roman Catholic perspective. In fact, the title of the movie refers to a Roman Catholic saying, where the dead are referred to as “the faithful departed.” These Christian themes in THE DEPARTED are profound and subtle. They may be worth further exploration.
Despite these positive qualities, however, the Christian worldview in THE DEPARTED is a liberal one. For example, the movie makes a small attack on the Patriot Act in one piece of ironic dialogue. There are also a couple minor jabs at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, including one or two references to the homosexual sodomy that some Catholic priests and archbishops committed and/or tried to hide from the public. Furthermore, the movie also sometimes creates a kind of moral equivalency between the police and Costello’s gang. For example, the tagline for the movie is, “Cops or criminals – when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” Finally, although the story occurs in a dark, fallen world of flawed people (which is a Christian, Jewish belief that comes directly from the Bible), the movie suggests that God is somewhat removed from the battle between good and evil. Hence, the movie’s Christian worldview is almost as flawed as some of the movie’s characters.
THE DEPARTED is a problematic movie – mostly because of the nearly constant, very excessive foul language, as well as some of the movie’s graphic violence, the gratuitous and unbalanced potshots at the Catholic Church*, and the gritty, almost hopeless, world in which the story takes place. There is also one scene where Colin and Costello are supposed to meet secretly in a theater showing dirty movies. As a joke, Costello scares Colin with a realistic-looking rubber penis. Eliminating this gratuitous joke, cutting or diminishing the movie’s foul language, and making the movie’s ending more hopeful would make THE DEPARTED more morally and spiritually acceptable. It also would have made it an even more entertaining, and more sublime, work of art. If Mr. Scorsese would return to his Christian, biblical roots and learn to follow traditional dramatic expectations more closely sometimes, his movies would be even better than they are – better artistically, theologically, morally, and philosophically. They’d also probably make much more money. Of course, if Scorsese did those things, perhaps the jaded, cynical film critics in the politically correct, degenerate secular news media might not praise him so often. We are not supposed to seek the praise and honor of men, however, but the Glory and Righteousness of God through Jesus Christ!
*According to statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education (“Educator Sexual Misconduct,” by Charol Shakeshaft, 2004), teachers sexually abuse 32,000 American children at school each year. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have only been 10,667 allegations of sexual abuse of children in the Church between 1950 and 2002. Even if you increase that number 10 times to account for unreported cases, that means only 2,050 cases of child sexual abuse occur each year by officials in the Catholic Church, compared to 32,000 cases by American school teachers. Yet, the news media, and movies such as THE DEPARTED, like to trash the Catholic Church far more often than America’s schoolteachers. That doesn’t excuse, of course, pedophile priests, nor the bishops who hide such transgressions, but it does make one think a second time before making jokes or engaging in angry diatribes at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church.
(CC, BB, PC, FR, Ab, PaPa, LLL, VVV, S, NNN, A, DD, MM) Strong Christian worldview with some positive references to Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Christian funeral ceremonies, but from a liberal Roman Catholic perspective that has a negative view of the Catholic Church's priestly hierarchy and is marred by antinomian, pagan attitudes in a dark world where sin abounds, but with a clear, but sometimes conflicted, moral center where the police are indeed the good guys, especially the undercover cop hero and his captain, though the police are imperfect and one good cop working with the undercover policeman has to resort to questionable methods in order to "get" one of the two main bad guys, with an apparent moral equivalency at times between the police and criminals, especially in the use of similar means to achieve different ends; at least 297 mostly strong obscenities (including many "f" words), 10 strong profanities and three light profanities, including some crude sexual comments; extreme graphic violence with a fair amount of blood includes fighting during which people are thrown against objects, man breaks his hand hitting a man who was threatening a store owner, point blank shootings (some against a few people's heads with blood spattering behind them), gangster brutally bangs man's cast against table and breaks man's hand again, gangster comes out of his back office with blood covering his arms and his rolled-up sleeves, man shoots himself rather than be captured by police, man thrown off roof of building, and a few corpses with pools of blood; implied fornication in one scene, unmarried couple lives together, man kisses woman's stomach while she's wearing only her bra and panties, some crude sexual remarks, and couple shown lying in bed one or two times after a night of implied fornication; upper male nudity and partial rear female nudity during foreplay, excessive full male nudity in one scene where man shows realistic-looking rubber penis to another man as a joke, naturalistic upper male nudity, and woman in bra and somewhat skimpy panties in one scene; alcohol use; smoking, gangster deals drugs and gangster shows woman a bowl of cocaine and tells her to "make yourself numb" before their planned intercourse (scene cuts away after that joke); and, strong miscellaneous immorality such as stealing, moving stolen goods, extortion, and gangster behavior mostly rebuked, spying on the police rebuked, police sergeant crudely and insultingly interrogates a new recruit, small politically correct attack on the Patriot Act in one piece of ironic dialogue, and a good cop commits an act of vigilante justice which is not really rebuked.
THE DEPARTED is an American remake, directed by Martin Scorsese, of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, an acclaimed Hong Kong police thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon star as two new recruits for the Massachusetts State Police. Billy Costigan works undercover in a notorious gang of mobsters in South Boston, who are led by Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson). Detective Colin Sullivan lands a job in the elite Special Investigations Unit trying to bring down Costello and his gang. Colin, however, is a secret informant who works for Costello. Costello figures out there's a spy in his outfit, and the police figure out there's a spy in Colin's unit. A violent, complicated game of cat and mouse ensues.
THE DEPARTED is brilliantly directed, shot, edited, and acted. Despite plot problems, multiple endings and overlong running time, the compelling story and characters sweep viewers along. THE DEPARTED has a strong Christian worldview that seems to side with the good cops in the story. It is set, however, in a dark, almost hopeless, world with almost constant, very excessive foul language, fallen people and some graphic violence. The movie also takes some minor potshots at Roman Catholic priests.