Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Departed Gets it Right

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is set in Boston among the Irish mob and Irish cops, a story of betrayal and lies by a director who has made his life's work the study of the consequence of sinMartin Scorses's The Departed

"I didn't want to be a product of my environment," says Boston mob boss Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, in a raspy voice over a black screen at the outset. "I want my environment to be a product of me."

Naturally, it begins with an altar boy sipping a soda in a store, with Nicholson in shadow, muscling a terrified shopkeeper. The shopkeeper hands over some cash in the shakedown, and Nicholson then begins flirting with the teenage, female cashier. The boy silently takes all this in, the threats, the cashier's receptive smile, and there is a glint in the boy's eye. He's charmed by such leverage. He's an intelligent boy drawn to the possibilities of power. And so he becomes the servant.

There is no one who does sin better than Scorsese.

"The Departed" is a story of the mob infiltrating the police, and the police infiltrating the mob, and others leveraging the feds in scheme after scheme. They rat each other out, and the consequences fall upon them, inevitably, like snow on a graveyard in December.

With all the intrigue, it could easily have been set in Chicago, and should have been, although we don't seem to do that kind of movie here. Here, we have history enough for Scorsese to make a trilogy on the Outfit and local law enforcement.

We've had hit men cops and jewel thief cops who've been portrayed as heroes until their arrests; and honest police officers stuck for their entire careers hauling drunks out of wagons, others sentenced to 25 years in blue without ever making sergeant. It is a circumstance that can only happen in a highly political town, a town where everything is traded, a bartertown like Chicago, like Boston.

Another element missing were the politicians. The Outfit has owned several freight trains of politicians in Chicago, including mayors. And in Boston, there's Democratic political boss William Bulger and his brother, James "Whitey" Bulger, the hit man charged with 19 murders, and who also corrupted an FBI agent. There weren't any politicians in this one. Maybe next time.

I saw the film on Friday morning. Though I've written about the Chicago Outfit and it's penetration of local law enforcement in the case of former chief of detectives William Hanhardt, I'm no movie critic. But I did go to film school at Columbia College and ran the projector for free screenings for a month or so, watching post-war Italian films involving sad dogs and sad clowns during lunch. So why can't I rate this one?

I happily give "The Departed" four broken knuckles, or four bullets, or four lead pipes, or four broken thumbs, if you will.

Not for the violence (it's supposedly terrible to celebrate violence, but it makes for great cinema when done right), but for the acting of Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

And a special bonus for the scene in which DiCaprio's character asks the alluring female police psychiatrist if she has any cats.

"You don't have any cats?"

"No," she says.

"I like that," he says.

I'm not going to spoil what happens next. You'll have to trust me. You might believe what happens immediately after the cat scene, but you won't believe the rest.

So see it soon, before other people you know see it themselves and invariably spoil it for you, the way some idiots spoiled "The Usual Suspects" (directed by Bryan Singer) a few years ago.

People who saw "The Usual Suspects" before you did just couldn't keep their mouths shut about it, could they? They pretended they didn't want to say anything, but they couldn't resist the temptation of dropping some stray detail, which zinged back through your memory as you sat in the theater, moments before you learned the identity of Keyser Soze.

Don't let anyone do that to you this time. See the movie. And except for the cats and the altar boy, I'm not going to spoil or divulge anything from "The Departed," except for this one little thing.

A woman behind me at the movie started talking, alone, to herself during the ending. As I turned, she was rattling her popcorn bag, her fingers glistening like washed baby carrots.

She kept saying "Come on!" and "Gosh!" and "Oh!" and I kind of lost my temper, just a bit, and politely told her to shut her mouth or I'd pull a Jack Nicholson on her.

"Wow!" she said.

"Madam, will you please be quiet! Please!" I hissed.

"Oh all right," she said, mumbling something under her breath, before the final scene, which I won't tell you about. You've got to see it for yourself.

Thanks to John Kass

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