Adapted from the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, this is nonetheless a Scorsese film through and through. It's a nihilistic exercise in the "cops and criminals...what's the difference?" subgenre, in which everything of moment comes down to personal, individual contradictions. If there is systemic corruption and criminality, it's because human beings are systemically fucked up.
Bad boy Costigan is a cop infiltrating the mob; good boy Sullivan is a mobster infiltrating the cops. Costigan is troubled by family and class demons and has a prescription drug issue; Sullivan has a problem with sexual dysfunction, at odds with his easy (if deceptive) charm with the ladies. Being a Scorsese film, lapsed Catholicism mingles uncomfortably with latent Catholic guilt. (The film's title is itself a truncation of Catholic liturgy.)
Father-son issues abound as well, attaching the movie to a common mythic scope. Costigan's late father, a working class hero-type in tumultuous South Boston, could easily have been a successful criminal, but chose not to. Martin Sheen's Captain Queenan acts as father replacement ("Do it for me," he asks Costigan of the dangerous undercover work, though the two of them have just met); whereas Sullivan's replacement father is the Irish crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicolson, brilliant as usual).
Aside from Cpt. Queenan and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg in a hilariously profane performance), the Mass. State Troopers are as muddled by confusion, corruption and infighting as is the criminal organization. Sullivan, the criminal infiltrator in the police, is actually promoted as investigator....to discover who the criminal infiltrator is. And Costigan, the undercover cop, is one of only two people whom crime boss Costello actually trusts (one dangerous moment aside).
Meanwhile, Costigan and Sullivan are both in love with the same woman, unbeknownst to each other; and nor does she know the true identity of either man.
Jack Nicholson's gangster is almost demonic; when he isn't consumed by sex (always with cocaine-fuelled women whom he seems to despise), he is casually covered in blood, or handling body parts, and dispensing a sort of Ayn Rand "wisdom" to his worker bees. And of course he, too, is "undercover," and is working with the Feds as a Rat.
For obvious reasons, the idea of "rats" arises again and again. After sketching a swarm of rats apparently consuming the State House, Costello says to Costigan, "You can learn a lot by watching things eat. You should eat something." Everyone's eating one another in this film, and also eating their own selves through lies, double-dealings, suspicion, and guilt. Everyone is atomized and singular, "the individual" as postmodern and alienated, without community, and even "family" is a series of dopplegangers and frauds; the only good one, Cpt. Queenan, is dispatched violently, through a literalization of the Christian "fall."
In other words, what should be convoluted plot mess, overthemed with religious/mythic/psychological issues, and coincidence-contrived, comes out to take its place in the upper-tier pantheon of great crime movies (to which Scorsese had already contributed, crucially with the brilliant Goodfellas.)
Edited by bloodyminded, 19 June 2011 - 04:34 AM.