Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Departed

After watching my beloved UGA Bulldogs suffer a complete meltdown (and, let's be honest) beatdown at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, I was sorely, sorely in need of a good movie today. Luckily for me, Martin Scorsese had just the perfect remedy.

I was worried going in that, having gotten only four hours of sleep, I might have trouble keeping up with this fairly complicated flick, but I had nothing to worry about. The dialogue is fast and often funny, and the story, penned by William Monahan and based on the Hong Kong flick "Infernal Affairs," kept me rapt until the last man standing (who it is, of course, you won't hear from me). In case you can't tell yet, this isn't gonna be a review. I'll apologize in advance. This is gonna be a full-fledged rave.

What Scorsese and Monahan have accomplished here isn't simply an Americanized remake of a foreign flick. As we well know by now, any Hollywood hack can - and does - do that. Instead, it's a transformation, taking the potboiler premise of the equally great "Infernal Affairs" and recasting it completely on their own terms.

From the outset, in Jack Nicholson's opening shadowy introductory speech, what you get is a strong sense of place. And though they're the streets of Boston now rather than New York or New Jersey, they're the "Mean Streets" Mr. Scorsese used to know so well. Just as Woody Allen adapted London and brought it to life in "Match Point," Scorsese has taken to Boston and made it seem like his natural home turf.

I guess I should at least mention the plot, for anyone who may have no idea what I'm talking about. The story here is one of undercover police work and taking on the Boston mafia. Without giving too much away, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio play two Massachusetts state police academy graduates. One is a plant from the mob, however, and the other is recruited to go undercover and infiltrate said mob. You won't even hear from me which is which, but just as in "Infernal Affairs," it's interesting to watch as their identities continue to blur.

What you would have here, if it weren't so well written by Monahan, would be a B-movie at best. And Monahan and Scorsese know that. As the story gets more and more complicated, they never forget that this is supposed to be fun. And it is.

To bring this home, you need men acting manly, so why not get the baddest man (except maybe Samuel L.) of all. As mob boss Frank Costello, Nicholson is cool, more than a little crazy and almost a cartoon. I say almost because he plays it right to the top, but never over.

As for Leo and Matt, they're both very good, but I'll give the edge here to Leo. From his first big scene with cops Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg (yes, there are a ton of A-listers in this one, but none wasted), he just looks like the angry young man he should be. He looks like the kind of dude who could have taken on Daniel Day Lewis' Bill "The Butcher" Cutting, which he never effectively did in "Gangs of New York." And as the sole chica with any kind of role in this tale of men being manly, Vera Farmiga shines as the woman trapped between these two converging forces.

A final note about cell phones that crossed my mind as this one ended. I've never much liked thrillers in which they played a prominent role, until now. Before "The Departed," I had never seen a movie where text messaging played such a key role. Scorsese has his characters wield their phones as weapons, and I was surprised at just how well it worked.

In the audience, however, I didn't hear or see one cell phone through the whole movie. Just a packed house of viewers engrossed enough to keep silent throughout a movie made for adults who love watching movies. The first thing I heard anyone say until the closing credits was when the person with me leaned over and said, in language Mr. Monahan would have surely appreciated, "that was f-ing awesome." I couldn't have put it better myself.


Anonymous said...

Excellent review (although, you said it is not) but a rave will do this movie justice. I couldn't have said it better myself; I think your piece is much better (and organized) than mine.

Anyway, I really want to see the original, I might rent it today from blockbuster and see how it goes (although, I can tell from now that the Scorsese version is way much better).

Good job ;)

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, fallen angel ... I'm certain you will enjoy the original ... it should be viewed on its own rather than in comparison to "The Departed," and in that way it's an excellent flick

Vasta said...

Sadly, I think that Nicholson was the weakest part of the film: he did venture into over-acting for me. That being said, he did in no way detract from the otherwise excellent pacing and framing of the film.

The script is by far the star in this film, even though Di Caprio's performance was Oscar worthy.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see what you mean, Vasta, even if I disagree ... I think he played the part exactly as it was written, and it just worked perfectly for me

Gar said...

Great review!

I also admit, as much as I want to loathe Mr. DiCaprio for his pretty boy roles in the past, he did a pretty competent job in this flick.

I'll have to disagree with vasta, though... for me, seeing Nicholson perform as a manical mob boss who throughout the course of the movie devolves into someone even more evil and more crazy was pretty impressive. I was in awe.

Fang Bastardson said...

Great flick, great rave, and a surprisingly solid performance from DiCaprio. I agree that Jack took it right to the top, but not over. I think we have to thank Scorsese for that. I have no doubt the cutting room floor is littered with takes that end with "Okay, Jack, let's do it again... a little bit 'less' this time, okay?"

I really admire the way you reviewed the flick at reasonable length without giving the whole thing away, too. That's the reason I never read reviews of movies before I see them, and I appreciate your restraint.

Next potential Great Movie: Flags of our Fathers. Can't wait!

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely with you on Flags of Our Fathers, Fang ... that weekend, with Marie Antoinette and The Prestige also, is just going to be a great one for flicks

marina said...

I liked this too...just not quite as much! :)

I will say that for the first time, I was actually more than impressed by DiCaprio's acting. The guy really blew me out of the water. And I completely agree that both movies should be seen as seperate entities rather than in comparison.

Sadie Lou said...

I just saw it this weekend and did a review myself. I have to say that I DID think Jack went over the top. He has to. We've seen Jack over the top so many times that he has to do something like this to even get our attention (like eating a fly or talking through a mouth full of blood). How do you not go over the top after The Shining? He gave us everything he had back then and now it's just kind of the same--good, but same.
I like his more subtle performances.
DiCaprio has always, ALWAYS been a good, solid actor and it bugs me when people say "he's fianlly proving himself oscar worthy" he's been spot on since This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. I wasn't surprised that he delivered.
Mark Wahlburg surprised me though--that was awesome!

Reel Fanatic said...

Wahlberg was indeed great, Sadie ... And I didn't mean to be hating on Leo .. I liked him in The Aviator quite a bit, but was still impressed that he was able to hold his own among so many A-listers ... I'll be reading your review tomorrow while I'm at work (saving it for something to take my mind off work), and I really look forward to it

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to introduce myself and thank you for reading my entry on The Departed...I have to say, as much as I complain about the ending, the only reason it made me so mad is because I probably could have watched another hour or two I liked it so much! I especially appreciated the excessive use of profanity - you just know the manly men all have to talk like this because they can never, ever give anything away (re: emotion).