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Friday, 13 June 2008

The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese, always close to the top of any list of the greatest American film directors of the modern era, must be really pissed off that the only time he got to win that ever elusive Academy Award was for a remake of a Hong Kong movie. That has to really bite. I've seen Infernal Affairs, the original version of this story and it stunned me, though I've yet to catch the two sequels. This one had a lot to live up to, Oscar or no Oscar, and given the people that he's lumbered with he was up against it. We have a bloated Alec Baldwin, for Pete's sake; Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch playing a professional asshole cop; Leo DiCaprio from Titanic; and MATT DAMON (I can't resist shouting his name after seeing Team America World Police). That's not promising.

At least he starts out safe, with the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack backing up Jack Nicholson in full on stalk mode. Those are major names to throw out at the beginning of a movie presumably because Scorsese wanted to make a point. Nicholson is Frank Costello, a crime boss in Boston who plays things very tough indeed. The cops want him bad but he's an elusive character who plays things very professionally and while he's never hesitated to get his hands dirty he's not someone who they can just pick up. They play it carefully, build their case slowly and and get a believable man inside Costello's organisation.

The catch is that Costello has done precisely the same thing. He's played things just as carefully from his side and has managed to get a believable man inside the Special Investigations Unit. Both men are good at what they do, very good indeed, which is precisely why they were chosen, but it takes a long while for even them to realise that their respective bosses have moles. That realisation makes life very difficult for each of them and fascinating for us, especially as there are more twists on the way as both nets close in, not least that both of them become romantically linked to the same psychiatrist.

This could have failed so easily. What seems like every Asian film made nowadays gets remade in the States a few years later and most of them suck. In fact the more I catch up with the originals, the more the remakes suck. The Departed may be unique in translating its source material very well indeed and making the whole thing work in a completely different setting. Infernal Affairs was all Hong Kong, The Departed is about Boston, Massachusetts, with cops against Irish mafia, but the underlying concept works very well in both environments. Alan Mak and Felix Chong wrote the original, but William Monahan successfully turned it into an American story. There's a lot of very cool dialogue here that doesn't come off as cool in any pretentious manner.

Jack Nicholson is notably excellent, even though he looks more like Macho Man Randy Savage every day, but perhaps because the portrayal is hardly a surprising one for him it's other names on the bill that impress most. To my eyes it's Ray Winstone as Costello's tough as nails right hand man, Mr French; it's Vera Farmiga as the psychologist who gets close to both moles; and it's Leonard DiCaprio, who I'm grudgingly beginning to have a serious admiration for.

It isn't just because he gets to punch Marky Mark in the face, though that's always a plus, it's because I'm gradually seeing him in more roles, notably different roles, and he keeps on impressing me. I remember watching Titanic in Nova Scotia and cheering on the death scene. 'Die, Leo, Die!' wasn't just to wind up my host who was a big fan, it was because he was so annoying. It became very easy to laugh at his talent but that laughter slowly turned hollow. One of these days I'm even going to have to watch Titanic again.

Even Marky Mark is good here, to the degree that I'm going to have to start calling him Mark Wahlberg. I saw a lot of his early films and he was fun to watch but he was never great, but while I have a feeling DiCaprio was always great and I just didn't realise it, Wahlberg's learning. Heck, even Matt Damon isn't bad, though the scenes between him and DiCaprio really show the quality difference between them, and I guess I can live with Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin and the rest of the people who don't quite live up to the major names. There's enough here with Nicholson, DiCaprio, the story and the direction. Because I can't help but believe Scorsese is a big part of this, even though the films of his that I've seen, which include some great films, are far from this focused.

1 comment:

R-Lo said...

Hey Hal, nice blog. I thought Nicholson was awful in this (way too over the top) and I haven't liked DiCaprio in anything since "Gilbert Grape." However, I'm with you in thinking Ray Winstone was really impressive here--although I could probably say that about everything I've seen him in. Anyway, I look forward to catching up on some of your other reviews. Later!