2006-10-20 / Columnists


Commentary By Robert Snyder

'The Departed' - Ratting On Rats

Trust is a big deal in the world of Martin Scorsese.

Robert De Niro's "Casino" character obsessively repeated, "Can I trust you?," about 20 times to his wife played by Sharon Stone. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) was the definitive snitcher on his "Goodfellas" gangster pals before he hid away in the Witness Protection Program. De Niro again was crazy with marital jealousy in "Raging Bull."

Now, the Oscar-nominating director has made the ultimate rat movie "The Departed." It's the filmmaker is in fine form, except that hambone Jack Nicholson almost capsizes the cops-and-criminals epic as King Rodent Frank Costello, Irish mob mastermind.

Nicholson does what De Niro would never do. He plays wild and loose against a tightly knit company of solid actors, which includes Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. Although always entertaining, Nicholson is doing 'Evil Jack," la 'The Shining," "Witches of Eastwick' and "Anger Management." The other actors are portraying actual characters, right down to their Boston accents (Jack's Kennedy accent comes and goes). Though Nicholson is fun to watch, his theatrics make it difficult to keep track of the complex plot involving two moles: one infiltrating the mob, the other spying on the police.

Based on the 2002 Hong Kong thriller, "Internal Affairs," the script by William Monahan ("Kingdom of Heaven") follows two police rookies, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Damon), who take divergent rat routes. Colin works for Costello, while Billy's allegiance is to the Massachusetts State Police headed by Captain Queenan (Sheen). The action/ suspense set-pieces revolve around drug deal confrontations between good guys and bad guys, as the moles try to out each other while remaining undercover.

And, yes, the blood flows freely. After all, this is a Martin Scorsese movie. However, at times, wiseacre Nicholson seems to be mocking the director's trademark movie massacres. In one scene, he walks from the back of his bar, up to his elbows in blood. I don't remember even Scorsese regular Joe Pesci being that blatant.

"The Departed" is a must for Scorsese fans, whether or not they can follow it on the first viewing. But, I'm sure his loyalists will savor every blood-soaked minute multiple times.

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