Oscar-Winning Mystery–The Departed: Drunken Strawberries

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Verma Famiga, Alec Baldwin
(R, 150 min.)

Academy Awards (2007)
Best Picture
Directing: Martin Scorsese

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." William Shakespeare

It is awash with blood and gore and a kind of poetic profanity, but somehow this cops and robbers showdown manages to touch upon the vagaries of identity, the complexity of goodness, and the poisonous nectar of evil without missing a beat. Match that with a truly stellar cast that delivers the goods and you’re in for a 2 1/2 hour roller coaster that soars through the screen.

The story in itself is compelling and owes most of its plot to the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs upon which is based. This version is set in South Boston, the underside of Braham Beacon Hill, a world that fits neatly in the palm of crime boss Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson’s) hand. Even his petty shakedowns have personal touch, a kind of sleazy malevolence in the crude questions he poses to the shop owner’s daughter and the random kindness in a sack of groceries he bestows upon the local orphan sitting at the soda fountain.

Only it isn’t really random kindness, but the early nurturing of the bad seed Costello intends to plant inside the police department. Of course, first he has to wrest the young alter boy from his chief South Boston rival, the Catholic Church, which takes a little time and persuasion. The Church and his other adversary, the Guineas, or the Italian mafia, Costello holds in equal contempt. (Though how this supposed Irish mug gets the name Costello is beyond me.)

Fast forward a little over a decade and we see the little alter boy graduating form the Police Academy and soon becoming part of the Special investigations unit assigned to bringing down Costello’s Mick Mob. Matt Damon plays the adult Colin Sullivan with suave understatement, trading bruises and cocky insults with the firefighters football team in a local competition, thus cementing his good old boy comradeship with his colleagues. He takes to his paid for by Costello upscale digs, -- a view of the garish capitol outside his pricey windows -- as his due, and turns on his megawatt sophistication and charm to woo shapely police psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga).

Someone else is also living a double life, too, but an inside out version, with a very compelling Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan, cajoled and coerced into his duel identity as a cop in deep cover trying to take down Costello. It seems some of Billy’s family had unsavory pasts – pasts he was trying to put behind him in becoming a cop -- that make him perfect for this deceit. His descent into Costello’s degenerate and brutal world is almost as involuntary and inevitable as Sullivan’s, but unlike Sullivan who wears his borrowed robes like an Armani suit; Costigan is not comfortable being someone he is not.

Ultimately, we see the toll this deceit takes on the two men. Sullivan becomes as cold and calculating as his mentor, perhaps even more so, but Billy lives in fear of being discovered, repulsed by the viciousness of the murderers he must adopt as brothers, and soon must rely on pills to make it through the night. 

Costello is under so such forced deception, but like Macbeth, he is “in blood stepped so far” that he, too, is on the verge of becoming unhinged. He toys with a severed hand at breakfast, finally removing the gold wedding band to send back to the widow, and in one scene emerges from a back room almost unaware of his hands reeking of blood. Neither the endless money nor the easy sex hold much zest for him anymore, and he’s even lost his fervor for revenge, remembering almost sadly that at one time, the mere whiff of a mole among his men would have brought death to all just to be on the safe side. Now he worries and wonders and sets out traps to uncover the traitor. As usual, Nicholson plays this Id driven force of nature as only he can, his brows twisting and mouth puckering to imitate the rat he seeks to smoke out.

Except for a somewhat unsatisfying ending that tries to made up for any shortcomings by piling on the body bags, The Departed is a visceral examination of good and evil, whose casual brutality and profanity do not offend as much as fit the futile lives of those confined to their own private circles of hell.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Where does a poor South Boston boy take his date? Why to a posh French restaurant, of course, something as far away as possible from his humble roots in respectable poverty.

There Colin Sullivan impresses the attractive police psychiatrist with his knowledge of an obscure Sigmund Freud observation about his countrymen: ”The Irish are the only people impervious to psychoanalysis.” Perhaps this should have stood as a warning to a more insightful shrink, but Madoyn wallows in Colin’s charm just as the strawberries do in the red wine of this wonderful French dessert.

Drunken Strawberries

  • 4 Cups Fresh, Ripe Strawberries 
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Sugar 
  • Fruity Young Pinot Noir or Beaujolais 
  • *Crème Fraiche: 
  • 2/3 cup Cool Whip, 1/3 cup Sour Cream 

Wash and trim 4 cups strawberries. Cut into quarters. Sprinkle with sugar and toss. Serve in goblets with just enough wine to cover. Dollop with crème fraiche.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook