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The Departed Limited Edition Steelbook Review

The Departed Limited Edition Steelbook

Director Martin Scorsese has made a good living reminding us that the human body is a fragile thing. A small, inanimate object such as a blade or a slug of lead can shatter the delicate human envelope and spill out its life-sustaining contents onto dirty city sidewalks. One moment you're here, the next you're a heap of flesh lying in a widening crimson pool. Violent and sudden death is no respecter of persons -- a 9mm slug takes down the good and the bad with equal ferocity. Scorsese's Academy Award winning film, The Departed, is his latest reminder of these facts. This is a dark story set in the seamy South Boston city innards where a decent gesture or simple honest ideal is nowhere to be found, not with the crooks, not with the police. Suspicion and duplicity reign. Trust no one. Likeable or familiar and neighborly characters do not exist. This is a story about begetting - bad begets bad, there is no escaping it. And yet an inexorable reckoning waits just around the corner, probably in the form of a gunshot to the head. Even good intentions, if initiated with evil machinations, will eventually return in the form of a silencer. Simple goodness is an unattainable ideal, unrealistic even. Foul language and even fouler attitudes on both sides of the moral line suggest that the line has become so blurred that cop and crook seem interchangeable, with a further implication that this is the real world. Mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) nurtures and plants a mole, an informer (Matt Damon), into the Boston City Police detective squad. For their part the police, headed up by Captains Queenan and Ellerby and Sergeant Dignam, (Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Whalberg), are fiercely determined to bust Costello and his organization. They imbed Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) as an undercover agent in Costello's mob. The two moles are unaware of the existence of the other, and each is dogged in carrying out his assignment. And so follows round after round of second-guessing, suspense, blackmail, intrigue and brutality. As Costello, Nicholson turns in a perfect performance of the consummate, sleazy and depraved animal, a human predator ready to swallow anyone he can use to sustain his life and his lordship. As with many of this actor's roles, there is a deliciously seductive facet to his shady characters --- the toothy smile, the soft-spoken casual manner, the serpent holding forth the irresistible apple. Any small truths uttered from his mouth are designed to slowly trap you in an imperceptible yet closing dark web of lies. As mob boss there is nothing of the grand and prim Don Corleone here. Nicholson's Costello is shabby, unshaven, polluted, yet sharp - nobody's fool. Character portrayals led by the ensemble of Damon, Whalberg, Baldwin and Sheen, reel with tremendous power and conviction along with some nuance, but are more or less standard fare, especially in a Scorsese film. There is one exception, however. DiCaprio's role as Billy Costigan, in part due to William Monahan's excellent Oscar-winning script that allows this character a broader unveiling, delves deep into the subtleties, tensions and grinding internal conflicts of a real three-dimensional character. All the other roles, either in solo or ensemble, though riveting, seem to exist as the canvas for DiCaprio's portrait to unfold. If there is a hero in this film it is Billy Costigan. His is the character of deep internal struggle. He needs a mentor, a loyal friend, someone to help him come to terms with his shady Boston "southy" family background, his personal longings, and the soul-crushing and astonishingly cynical police team who cruelly berate him and then put him to work. Costigan's painful oscillation between brutality, rage, vulnerability and tenderness is an unheeded plea for someone to help him come to grips with his dark, vicious existence and his higher instincts of compassion and light. In his affair with a police psychologist Madolyn (Vera Farminga) we see a vulnerable and pathetic young man, one searching for gentleness and meaning in a wretched world. This relationship works for Billy to a point, but mostly it works for us as we witness more of Costigan's unfolding, multifaceted character. In the end what he wants so terribly much is a personal identity, he wants his life, he wants to start over. DiCaprio's brilliant portrayal captures it all, and with an absolute honesty that is so rare these days. The trap for the average actor is to play the role with a flat linear rage, followed by sentimentality, then with maudlin self indulgence and self consciousness. The demands of this role are vast - from rage that is invested with a hint of fear and confusion, to a churning visceral boil kept scarcely under control, to the softness of a lost little boy who just found his mother. Where Nicholson's fine performance unveils two lines converging on a point, DiCaprio's drips with fullness of perspective - Oscar-worthy to be sure, but overlooked in 2006 by the Academy. The actor did, however, walk away with the Austin Film Critics 2006 for Best Actor and was nominated by the British Academy Awards and The Chicago Film Critics Circle. Scorsese's mastery of this type of material is legendary. Desolate characters and circumstances are mirrored and supported by the natural backdrop of south Boston. Lighting, settings (even the police station seems dark and scary), shooting angles and camera motion all conspire to stir up a constant sense of uneasiness along with an ever present and palpable purpose of dark destiny. A bright, humorous and ironic shot placed in juxtaposition to the overpowering force of the film would have made for a nice touch of relief. The Departed will go down in cinematic history as a powerful and important film. DiCaprio's presence as an actor will continue to rise to new heights. With this film he cements his cross over from mere stardom to accomplished actor.


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