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Weekend! Movies: The Big Movie

'The Departed:' Scorcese's Continuous Hell is worth a visit
by: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS., Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio have a chat as undercover agents in Martin Scorsese’s remake of the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs.”

In an all-too-rare example of good Hollywood karma, the terrific 2002 Hong Kong thriller 'Infernal Affairs' has been smashingly reincarnated by Martin Scorsese as 'The Departed.'

It's one of the few remakes since, well, Scorsese's 1991 'Cape Fear' that stands solidly on its own and doesn't wipe its feet on the original.

Working from a script by William Monahan that remains surprisingly faithful to its predecessor, Scorsese is back in gangland, splashing things up with a bloody 'Goodfellas' splatter pattern.

The location may be Boston and the neighborhood Irish this time, but that's no matter. Scorsese is all about the moral compass, and his characters - mostly cops here - navigate in shadow. More accurately, they race like crazy in a dark paranoid maze where the light at the end is probably a muzzle flash.

The rats in this particular race are undercover agent Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), employed by the cops to infiltrate the mob, and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), employed by the mob to infiltrate the cops.

But regardless of loyalty, each is gripped so firmly in the bloodstained fist of mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) that there's nothing to do but struggle.

Boston or Hong Kong, this is still Continuous Hell, the worst of Buddhism's eight hells, referred to at the start of 'Infernal Affairs.' And everybody burns.

Few movies since Anthony Mann's great 1940s noirs 'T-Men' and 'Border Incident' have made such vividly nightmarish stuff of undercover life. What Scorsese brings to the bonfire is his particular gift for pavement-scraping neighborhood dynamics and that good old-fashioned guilt that pops like fever sweat.

Such pressure brings out the best in DiCaprio and Damon, and makes for juicy contributions from Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as cops of varying temperament.

The mob boss role was beefed up for Nicholson, who responds carnivorously. His Costello is a shopworn Mephistopheles so comfortably sunk in corruption that he's touched depravity, and his shadow stains the entire landscape.

This influence may have something to do with why, in spite of all the performance firepower, mean-street grit and splashing brain matter, Scorsese's film is less emotionally engaging than its sleeker Hong Kong counterpart.

The reflective gleam of 'Infernal Affairs' feeds the split-image kinship of soulful Tony Leung and blade-cool Andy Lau with a mystery and romance that draws on your feelings. The steaming ferocity of 'The Departed' pulls you in by the viscera.

Continuous Hell. Be there.

- Pat Holmes

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