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SCORSESE RETURNS TO FORM WITH ELECTRIFYING `DEPARTED'.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

The two main characters in Martin Scorsese's knockout crime-thriller ``The Departed'' are mirror-image locomotives, hurtling down the rails on a collision course. It takes nearly 2 1/2 hours for them to collide, but when they do in the film's climax, it's one of the most electric scenes you'll ever see in a movie.

``The Departed,'' a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong cop drama ``Infernal Affairs,'' is the movie Scorsese loyalists have wanted for years, a rough-and-tumble trip down memory lane, free from pretension and the meddling of Harvey Weinstein. The filmmaker's passion and intensity make ``The Departed'' howl with life, and they're more than matched by William Monahan's brilliant screenplay, which transfers the action from Hong Kong to the writer's racially charged native Boston.

There we meet two men. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), an ambitious, rising star in the state police who happens to be in the pocket of powerful Irish-American mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). On the other side of the law is Billy Costigan, a rookie cop tabbed to infiltrate Costello's gang so the cops' special investigations unit -- headed by Sullivan, naturally -- can bring the kingpin to justice.

To do their jobs, Sullivan and Costigan both must live a lie, one pretending to be good, the other pretending to be bad. It drives them crazy, and it gets worse when each of them learn that there's an informer on the other side. Both must find the rat and eliminate him before their own rodent-like activities are discovered.

It sounds complicated and a bit convoluted (which it is, especially when the two men fall for the same woman, a psychiatrist played by Vera Farmiga), but Monahan's script is such a wonder of symmetrical precision that the audience is never left in the lurch. Scorsese masterfully works the story's inherent suspense while acknowledging and reveling in the absurdities of the plot. ``The Departed'' also has the same anarchic, black comic heart that made Scorsese's ``After Hours'' such a wicked romp.

DiCaprio forcefully connects with Costigan's profound sense of alienation and dislocation, and Damon is even better, turning Sullivan from a charming and skillful liar to a twitchy careerist consumed by self-preservation. Think of Damon's furtive work in ``The Talented Mr. Ripley'' and then take it one step further. This in an actor who digs deep and consistently amazes you.

Nicholson continues to add to the legend, here playing a user of men accustomed to getting away with murder and not about to change his ways in his golden years. ``Laying low is not what I do,'' Costello tells Costigan as the stakes get higher. In an earlier, key scene, while John Lennon's primal scream track ``Well, Well, Well'' blares in the background, he tells his young charge, ``Lennon said, `I'm an artist. You give me a (bleeping) tuba, I'll get something out of it.' '' Costello does the same thing with his crew of hoodlums, and, in his own twisted way, he is Vincent Van Gogh. (Or maybe Pollack, given the amount of splatter on display here.)

Scorsese's brilliance at marrying mood and music continues. Along with Lennon, the soundtrack features touchstones (the Rolling Stones' ``Gimme Shelter''), familiar songs performed in unfamiliar ways (Van Morrison singing Pink Floyd's ``Comfortably Numb'') and blistering nods to locale. (South Boston's hard-core punkers the Dropkick Murphys' ``I'm Shipping Out to Boston'' blares over the opening credits.)

You can feel Scorsese's exhilaration in every moment, and the experience is an adrenaline rush, pure and simple.

This is a great movie, one that ranks with Scorsese's very best.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

THE DEPARTED - Four stars

(R: strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson.

Director: Martin Scorsese.

Running time: 2 hr. 30 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Martin Scorsese liberates himself from lofty ambitions, returns to the mean streets and delivers a masterpiece of suspense.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Leonardo DiCaprio, left, Ray Winstone and Jack Nicholson star in ``The Departed,'' set and filmed in South Boston.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 6, 2006
Words:687
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