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Minor flaws aside, ‘The Departed’ delivers

Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” drops into the current movie scene like a fireball outshining a field full of flickering matches; Scorsese makes all other comers seem small and wretched.

Even though “The Departed” doesn’t quite reach Scorsese’s peak, it could well be one of the year’s best films. It lacks the gaudy grandeur of something like “Casino” (1995) or “The Aviator” (2004), but it’s also not as compact as “Mean Streets” (1973) or “Bringing Out the Dead” (1999). Running 149 minutes, its energy eventually flags; the ending plays as if everyone just wanted to go home. But until then “The Departed” moves with a fury, switching and leaping like an extended version of the drug-induced “Goodfellas” climax.

Based on Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s superb, taut 100-minute Hong Kong action film “Infernal Affairs” (2002), the story follows two cops/criminals. The first, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), works for a Boston gangster, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and operates as a mole within the police department. The second, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), is an undercover cop who poses as a member of Costello’s gang.

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Both rats have burrowed so deeply undercover that their true identities hang by a tenuous thread; they don’t even know each other. Sullivan answers only to Costello, while Costigan secretly reports to the kindly Queenan (Martin Sheen) and the cranky Dignam (Mark Wahlberg).

Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan (“Kingdom of Heaven”) add a further complication: a blond, blue-eyed police shrink (Vera Farmiga) who links up romantically with both protagonists.

Every actor in Hollywood wants to work with Scorsese, and he honors them all; Alec Baldwin tosses off a few snappy line readings, while spot-sweating through his blue cotton shirt. Ray Winstone makes a touching thug, and Anthony Anderson finds the pathos within his happy-go-lucky comic persona. Yet, one wishes that Damon had played his role a little less like a traditional villain and more like Costigan’s equal.

Nicholson nearly steals the entire film with his hilariously offensive tidbits of wisdom, but it’s Scorsese’s domain, and his presence is behind every gorgeous shot.

One breathtaking moment simply has Sullivan and Costigan “meeting” for the first time over cell phones; they’re framed exactly the same, shocked silent by fear and anticipation. Here technology connects everyone, as does violence, ranking everyone at the same level. Scorsese has ceased fighting the personal demons that haunted “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Now he’s here to demonstrate the sheer infectious pleasure of making cinema, a glorious symphony of motion in the key of violence.

Movie review

The Departed ???½

Starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson and Kevin Corrigan

Written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Felix Chong and Alan Mak

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Rated R

Running time 2 hours, 29 minutes

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