« Credits and residuals on Battlestar Galactica webisodes | Main | Heroes 1.02 - "Don't Look Back" »

The Departed

One day Martin Scorsese is going to win his Director Oscar. And when he does - unless it's a pity vote, I'm sorry, I meant a "body of work" vote - it'll be for a film where his directing will be invisible. In other words, when he'll direct like Clint Eastwood. The Departed could have been that movie ... might still be that movie in fact, because unlike, say, The Aviator, the directorial flourishes - the camera moves, the intercuts and so forth - aren't pervasive to the point of distraction. Certainly there are films that benefit from, even require, an overt directorial hand. But this isn't one of them. Restrained (comparatively) as Scorsese is, there are still enough conceits - especially in the first half - to take you out of the picture, to make you aware of the constructed nature of the story you're watching.

And it's a great story, reminding me of Michael Mann's Heat in structure, concerns and tone. Not that Scorsese is a director that needs to be compared to anyone, let alone someone he influenced.

The undercover cop is of course a well worn staple, as is the corrupt one. The spin that The Departed - based on a Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs - imparts, is mirroring the two stories: Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio) is a young cop trying to make a break from his "Family" family, but instead planted in the employ of Jack Nicholson's mafia boss Frank Costello. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is Costello's ostensibly clean-cut protege working his way up the departmental ranks as a mole. The two men are connected not only through Costello, and their search to find each other's identity, but the obligatory (though not cliched) shared love interest, psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga).

Nicholson is magnificent. He modulates his expressions and distinctive voice in a way that he hardly sounds like the guy everyone caricatures on sketch shows (or even other movies, including ones he appears in). He gives Costello layers and nuance, without overtly showing a "sensitive" side. I'm glad that De Niro pulled out of the picture - he would have been great of course, but in a familiar way. Nicholson is great in an unexpected way. Di Caprio is perhaps a tad too vulnerable, the little-boy-about-to-cry look makes its appearance once or twice too often. But otherwise he portrays Costigan's deterioration, as he cracks from the stress of leading the double life, well. Damon - who I've always thought played either sympathetic, straight-down-the-line, good guys or cameoed as yuppie arseholes in Kevin Smith movies - is actually repulsive in early scenes, conflicted and textured in later ones. It's possibly his best performance. Great support from ever-dependable Martin Sheen, flamboyant (but not too far) Mark Wahlberg, Farmiga, Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin (who delivers the movie's funniest line - "PATRIOT Act! PATRIOT Act! I love the PATRIOT Act!").

Good production values, as you'd expect, and unobtrusive (again in contrast to The Aviator). Really good wash of a soundtrack (by Howard Shore and a selection of well-picked songs).

You're drawn into the characters' lives as the noose tightens around their necks, but the ending falls apart just a little bit. There's a by-the-numbers bust/shoot-out followed by capstones on Sullivan and Costigan's lives. I'm certain Scorsese and screenplay writer William Monahan didn't mean for these to evoke titters and laughs like they did in the viewing I attended: the ironic justice meted out pushing over into satiric.

The Departed is definitely worth rewatching. If the ending had been better constructed and if Scorsese had just trusted his material and performers more and pulled back completely on being a "director's director", I think it would have been a major classic.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 20, 2006 5:30 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Credits and residuals on Battlestar Galactica webisodes.

The next post in this blog is Heroes 1.02 - "Don't Look Back".

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33