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Posted at 10:18 AM ET, 10/ 5/2006

A Weekend Must: 'The Departed'

By Jen Chaney

The sight of Jack Nicholson swinging a severed hand in Leonardo DiCaprio's direction. That's the sort of thing I want in a movie.

And I got it Tuesday night during a preview screening of "The Departed," Martin Scorsese's return to mobster life and rock 'n' roll swagger after a brief detour into "Aviator"-land. It's got everything we expect from a Scorsese gangster picture: stylish but not showy camerawork, ultra-intense acting, a liberal use of the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack and a fair amount of bloodshed. As much as I liked "The Aviator," it's weirdly comforting to have the "Goodfellas" Marty back doing his thing.

The film, a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," might have more moles than a season's worth of "24" episodes. Matt Damon is a cop who's actually helping out Irish mafia man Frank Costello (Nicholson, in his Scorsese picture debut) on the side. Meanwhile, DiCaprio is a police academy grad who gets booted out of the department (apparently he has some shady relatives) but winds up working for the P.D. anyway, as a plant inside Costello's organization. Will Costello get caught? Will Damon realize DiCaprio is onto him? Will Nicholson realize "Titanic's" king of the world is actually wearing a wire?

It takes 2.5 hours to sort it all out, but those are 150 of the more entertaining moments I've recently spent in a theater. All of the cast members, including Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and a profanity-spewing Mark Wahlberg, rise to their A-game, making the absolute most of the rapid-fire, often hilarious dialogue they've been handed. Does Nicholson get a little over-the-top? Sure, but here it works. When he raises the question of whether DiCaprio is a rat, then actually mimics the behavior of a real rodent, it's Jack at his best -- sinister, but childishly playful at the same time.

"The Departed" isn't a particularly deep film. It confronts no social issues and won't make anyone shed a tear of empathy, which is the main reason I don't see it being a major contender at Oscar time. But it's dark, absorbing and a savage roller coaster ride. And for $9 or $10 on a Saturday night, that's plenty.

By Jen Chaney  | October 5, 2006; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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