For as many point-blank pistol shots to the head, extreme close-ups, crude profanities and wanton acts of violence as Director Martin Scorcese put into “The Departed,” opening in theatres everywhere this weekend, its star power, fast pace, riveting suspense and compelling dialogue make it an entertaining film.
Of course, anything with Jack Nicholson in it these days is an automatic “must see,” and that almost goes as far as all Laker home games. He’s at his best in “The Departed,” playing a perfect role for him, a tough, unforgiving Mafia boss in Boston who must ferret out a police infiltrator operating in his inner circle.
Nicholson’s role in this one matches his best tough guy performances, such as the colonel in “A Few Good Men.” It is a film that could hearken back to his early “Chinatown” tour de force except that, in this case, mystery or surprise endings play no part.
It’s clear early on who the characters are and what they’re up to. With only a mild added plot twist midway through the film, the terms of the cat-and-mouse game are established at the outset and it’s just a matter of finding out how it all unfolds and ends.
Romance is a very marginal factor in this film, as its 95% all about tough guys. In addition to Nicholson, there are established veterans Martin Sheen and Alex Baldwin with important roles. But the key ingredient is the triumvirate of young hunky stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon. They look an awfully lot alike.
Damon will soon be 36, Wahlberg is 35 and DiCaprio is both the youngest at 31 and the most talented. He’s one of two young males who, remarkably, made a completely successful transition from childhood star to adult leading man. It’s a rare achievement.
DiCaprio, who started on the TV series, “Growing Pains,” in 1992 and caused young females to swoon with his roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic” in the 1990s, broke through into legitimate adult stardom with “The Gangs of New York” in 2002, followed by “The Aviator.” He’s got a lot on his plate currently, with “Blood Diamond” in post-production, “Blink,” “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” and “The Chancellor Manuscript” announced. He is off and running on a career that will carry him well into the Jack Nicholson phase of his life.
His career path is matched only, at present, by Ryan Gosling, another teen heartthrob who has grown into a legitimate adult star. Gosling, still only 25, began on the revived Mickey Mouse Club in the early 1990s, along with Brittany Spears, Dustin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. But his powerful role in the independent film now in theatres, “Half Nelson,” is considered Oscar-worthy by many. He’s not making the money that DiCaprio now commands for all his films, but in terms of pure acting talent, he’s simply as good as it gets.
For all of us eager for Tom Cruise’s dismissal, DiCaprio and Gosling present themselves as vastly superior alternatives.
DiCaprio pulls it off as a baby-faced tough guy in “The Departed,” still able to emote enough internal conflict and anguish to project as a real person beneath a rugged veneer. Damon has another role as a two-faced sociopath along the lines of what he did in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” He deadpans it pretty well, but since there is no real internal struggle in such a person, his acting doesn’t require a lot of that dimension.
Mark Walhberg, formerly known as “Marky Mark” during a brief stint as a teen heartthrob, plays a one-dimensional tough cop who does little more than yell obscenities.
For all these guys, there’s only one woman and her credits come well down the list of stars scrolled onto the screen. Vera Farmiga plays a shrink and is shared by two of the guys. One pays attention to a childhood photo of hers, the other doesn’t. She plays a pivotal role in the story.
In the tradition of such gangster films, there are a lot of scenes on old vacant office building rooftops, pistols pointed up noses and guys being thrown through glass doors. The new element is the role of cell phones, ubiquitous in this film, and especially their text messaging features. No one seemed to have any reception problems.
“The Departed” is entertaining and worth watching for the acting and suspense. But don’t expect any point to it or any easing off on profanity or violence right to the end.
One final note: in the soundtrack, and featured on the film’s trailers, is the seldom heard rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” performed by Van Morrison live at Roger Waters’ July 1900 “The Wall” concert in Berlin. The event drew half a million commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall at the same site seven months earlier. The film is almost worth the price of admission for that alone.