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Perhaps no director has spent more time examining the seedy underbelly of modern American culture than Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York”), and his newest effort, “The Departed,” is no exception. Scorsese brings his trademark no-holds-barred grit and gloom to a cat-and-mouse game between two young men–one a cop and the other a crook –in a movie that attempts to have all of the pathos and moral impact of a Greek tragedy, but with unsatisfying results.

Set in Boston, the movie follows the career of Irish mafia boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who has strategically placed one of the best and brightest from the Massachusetts Police Academy, detective Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), within the Boston state police department to work as a mole for his organization. However, the state police have their own mole –Billy Costigian (Leonardo Di Caprio)–infiltrate Costello’s syndicate so they can arrest Costello. Both men are wracked with guilt as they are sucked deeper into Costello’s web of deceit and violence and as they grow closer and closer to discovering each other’s identities.

For anyone expecting this thriller to be of the level of “Raging Bull,” “The Departed” is not much more than a mediocre rehash of much of Scorsese’s previous work. There are, to be sure, some stellar moments in the film, but its weaknesses overpower those moments of brilliance. Di Caprio’s performance as the troubled Costigian is amazing, but Nicholson chews the scenery like he’s playing The Joker in another Batman sequel, while Damon is just plain unconvincing as the two-faced Sullivan. And then there’s the completely convoluted love triangle-with-a-shrink storyline that is almost impossible to get past.

What troubles me most when I watch a Scorsese film, including this one, is that I always come away with a nagging feeling that Scorsese is not a big believer that grace, mercy, and redemption truly exist in our society. For Scorsese’s characters, it always seems as if these spiritual ideals are only abstract concepts that never become flesh-and-bone reality. And while I have heard some critics laud the final seconds of “The Departed” as Scorsese’s subtle nod to the power of light overcoming the darkness in a cruel world, I find that a bit of a stretch.

More importantly, the hopelessness of “The Departed” makes me wonder even more about the fate of Scorsese’s current project–a film adaptation of “Silence,” a book about Japanese martyrs, which all of my Catholic friends insist I should read.

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