As I mentioned yesterday, sprite and her friends spent a lovely afternoon hanging out – click here to read about it.

Meanwhile, I headed over to Arlington, Virginia, to do a little shopping and movie viewing.

The shopping was nothing exciting: bought lunch fixings (deli stuff, nothing special), looked through magazines and books at Barnes & Noble (I need to figure out what reading material I’ll want for the trip to Europe in two weeks), browsed at Best Buy, The Sports Authority, and Shopper’s Food Warehouse.

I browsed a lot because The Departed didn’t start until 4:25.

So I finally got to pass the 50 percent mark in seeing Best Picture contenders. The Departed is a fine film, though hardly Martin Scorsese’s best. The story pits the Massachusetts State Police against a South Boston crime syndicate, showing how neither side is really “in the right” as fellow police officers – one a mole tied to the mob, the other a mole asked to infiltrate the crime syndicate – play a high-stakes game of cat and mouse to bring each other down. The movie has strong, gritty performances from the whole cast, and the movie moves at a brisk pace for more than two hours.

The Departed is an adaptation of Infernal Affairs, a 2002 movie from Hong Kong. Scorsese moved the story to Boston, where organized crime and the police are legend in their turning a blind eye to each other. In this story, two cadets graduate from the Massachusetts Police Academy: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a kid from South Boston who is assigned to the plain-clothes unit to investigate Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) crime syndicate; and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), another Boston native whose high intelligence gets him assigned to a top-secret undercover unit, directed by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). Costigan is assigned to infiltrate the Costello syndicate by giving up his identity to be recast in life as a tough who got kicked out of the Academy.

Unbeknown to the MSP, Sullivan was more-or-less raised by Costello, and as such is a mole within the MSP who tips off Costello and his cohorts to any efforts to bring down organized crime in Boston. Throughout the film, Sullivan and Costigan do their roles to a fault, with Sullivan becoming a well-respected member of the police force, and Costigan becoming a right-hand man to Costello. Sullivan, however, tries to remove any member of the MSP who poses a genuine threat to Costello – and he largely succeeds. Meanwhile, Costigan keeps Queenan informed about Costello and warns of a mole within the MSP.

The movie comes to a rather brutal climax, with some unexpected twists to make it end on a “wow – did that just happen?” note.

Now while I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs, this movie did remind me of a film I’d seen before: 1995’s Heat, where a mob boss and a police detective find themselves on a collision course. Sure, there are some differences: in Heat, it was the leaders of the police and the crime family who eventually confront each other directly (Queenan and Costello only interact briefly in The Departed); in Scorsese’s film, it’s the two moles who lead the charge and interaction. And both have kick-ass soundtracks (as Sam said to me today: how can you not like a movie where, whenever Nicholson walks into a scene, the Rolling Stones start playing in the background?

Scorsese’s movie beats Heat because it gets into the morality play within the minds of the two moles, and in turn of the Costello syndicate and the Massachusetts State Police. The two moles are leading lives that are moored in lies: Sullivan is acting like the good guy when he’s one of the most deeply entrenched in Costello’s syndicate; Costigan is living a life that is very much not his own, lying about his past, his present and his future. And then there’s the cat-and-mouse mentality of the MSP vis-a-vis Costello: Costigan sees myriad points where the MSP could arrest Costello and his thugs, yet Queenan keeps saying we need “just a bit more” to press charges. It’s as if the MSP needs a major “them” to fight, lest they be made unnecessary.

Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t Scorsese’s best film. Goodfellas is a much better film, all-around, both in terms of script and editing.

Ah yes – the editing. Some of the continuity gaps and gaffes are true amateur-hour. For example: a scene where Costello is “interviewing” Costigan features two camera angles: one from behind Costello, looking at Costigan, and visa versa. However, in the scenes staring at Costigan (DiCaprio), Costello (Nicholson) is chomping on a cigarette, with smoke wafting around the scene. When the camera angle swaps, the cigarette and smoke are gone – poof, just like that. And some of the lip-synch in re-dubbed sections is really, really weak. Seriously, it’s nothing that couldn’t have been fixed using Final Cut Pro and Shake or After Effects – a $10 solution to fix simple, amateur flaws.

Fortunately, the movie is strong, as a whole. Is it the best of 2006? I’d still say that Little Miss Sunshine is a stronger and more unique movie. But this is better than The Queen, which is a decent script that’s propelled to soaring heights by Helen Mirren’s perfect portrayal of QE2.