Bright Lights Film Journal

The Departed, starring Vera Famiga (may contain DEPARTED Spoiler Alerts)

Everyone’s praising Oscar-winner The Departed and its manly cast, but what about the riveting Vera Famiga as the lady cop shrink who loves too much and knows “drug seeking behavior” when she sees it, but then writes out valium scrips anyway? J’taime! Expertly conveying a mix of vulnerability, educated intellect and steely working class resolution– you can practically fill in her character’s total backstory just from the looks in her eyes and her body language, just as Leo does in one scene.

For me though, it’s hard to fathom her attraction to Leo’s character in the film, though her scenes with Damon have a good, realistic give and take. And this relates to a problem with Leo’s presence in the Marty S universe that’s been troubling me now for nigh on a decade. WHY oh WHY do they have to keep making Leo’s characters these stoic, humorless saints?

The nifty thing about all the pre-plotted Scorcese films of the pre-Leo days was the total absence of anything resembling “a good guy.” In the moral universe of GOODFELLAS, CASINO and even AGE OF INNOCENCE there’s no clearcut villain or good guy, only characters navigating the slime pits and out to get a little $$ and that’s where the Marty poetry comes in.

Then Leo arrives and suddenly plopped down into the entertaining mess of GANGS OF NY we have this cliche’d character who must avenge his father and zzzzzzzzzzzzzz, and the AVIATOR with this dull fellow named Hughes, and now this humorless, stressed-out neurotic junkie played totally dry, who has to react to all Nicholson’s meaty humor so suspiciously, sweaty and strained that even without my glasses on I could have picked him as the mole from two miles off were I in a gangsta’s shoes. He doesn’t even get forced into killing an innocent for god’s sake!

But must it be that way? Imagine Leo as a grinning sociopath ala little Joe P. in Goodfellas in Casino? I bet he’d tear the roof off! Instead he’s got this weird halo to uphold, like he’s got to provide us all with a moral compass, like TITANIC put the hearthrob hero hook in him. Feh, I say! FEH!

Farmiga on the other hand, oui, sensationale! her character is allowed to drift into the dubious gray areas and still come out a hero and for that she’s a winner, the “real” moral compass of the film.. and very sexy and cool to boot, and looks so great in her black raincoat for that 3rd Man homage near the end.