The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster
"I walked out of federal prison on August 7, 2002, into a perfect summer day..." (by John "Red" Shea)
Don't count this film among the departed because it's going to be around for a long while. Martin Scorsese makes a film that makes it impossible to ignore come award time. It doesn't take a crystal ball to tell that it's full of 'em. Plus, about the best film he's done and, at last, I can climb aboard the Scorsese bandwagon. No exceptions.
The angle on this William Monahan (Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven") Bostonized version of Hong Kong screenwriter Siu Fai Mak's original story called, "Infernal Affairs," is a competing undercover cop mystery in which both the mob and the Boston State Police department have been infiltrated, discover that they have a rat in their midst, and go to great pains and spilling of blood to discover who it is.
To give the story historical perspective and to ensure that we don't misunderstand why smart Colin Sullivan is mob boss Frank Costello's man, the story starts back in the day when Costello is taking protection money from a local soda fountain and winds up treating young Sullivan with special kindness, recruiting him to his cause from an early age. Besides being the future Irish kingpin of South Boston, Costello is a visionary of young talent, his aim being lifelong loyalty.
Years later, when Costello is the primary focus of Boston police investigation, grown up Sullivan (Matt Damon) has become an ace of the Massachusett state police force, working as a cooperating investigator with the Boston squad, headed by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin). Perfect positioning to spy their every move.
A separate and more secretive unit, apart from Ellerby's, is run by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and foul-tongued, cynical veteran Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). They have a unique style of recruiting undercover operatives, which is readily apparent when they interview young cadet fresh out of training, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). By the time he steps into their office, they know all there is to know about him including strengths and weaknesses and why he might make a useful spy. But, it's no time for Mr. Nice Guy or candy-coated images of the risks. The man he's going to spy on, Mr. Costello, is a stone killer.
What an interview. Mr. Bad Guy Dignan attacks the new lad viciously enough to knock his survival instincts back to the stone age and destroy any self-respect that may linger. But it's a test of dedication and balsiness on a level of mental cruelty we haven't much seen before, Sullivan accepts their offer to work with them in penetrating Costellos' ring and we, the audience, have come to understand the harsh coldness of what he faces.
With verbal clashes between allies at least as savage and fierce as between enemies, writer Monahan sets the stage for the style and tone of what's ahead. Sullivan gets himself arrested for a staged, minor infraction and attracts, with his cell behavior, the attention of hoodlums who bring him to Costello's extremely sly and self-preserving attention.
Costello's ability to remain uncaptured despite known criminal activity is based on his well laid-out net of contacts among agencies of the law. When the Boston cops realize there is a mole among them, the complexities of Sullivan's work multiplies. An illicit buy in an abandoned building, ending in his and his boys getting away by boat out the back when the front was surrounded by Boston police, informs the good guys that they have a mole among them who is defeating their own intel from Sullivan.
Our two undercover guys become opposing forces in yet a whole other context as they vie for the affections of a hot blond shrink (Vera Farmiga, "The Manchurian Candidate") a psychologist is charged with giving official therapy to officers who might be traumatized by the violence in their work. The subplot mixes in much rogueish into the testosterone-amped action, confrontations and life-or-death suspense.
Nicholson is as naughtily amusing and flinty as ever, edging close to the top. The rest of the gang is reaching their best levels while showing what they can do with a Bahston accent.
Thankfully, Scorsese isn't doing "Gangs of Boston." Here, he masterminds diabolic suspense out of twisted motivations among symbiotic, explosive characters. He maintains a pace and grip on your attentions to make the ending, when it arrives after 2 1/2 hours, come as an unwanted surprise. Not that you'd ask for more movie, just more of this kind of exciting performance from Scorsese's renewed, dynamic grasp of drama.
The soundtrack and photographic contributions lead the technical credits for brilliance. If this was a canvas it would have to be painted from a palette of Irish, Italian and Asian fireworks.
~~ Jules Brenner Cinema Signals
The Blu-ray DVD
Infernal Affairs 1,2,3
Collector's 4 Dvd Boxset (2003)
(The original concept)
The Blu-ray DVD
Infernal Affairs 1,2,3