The Departed

The first two big hitters of the Oscar-chasing season have stepped up to the plate. Brian De Palma swung mightily and whiffed with The Black Dahlia, and now Martin Scorsese manages a bunt with The Departed — though many critics disappointed that De Palma didn’t slam it out of the park are now pretending that Scorsese has hit a home run. The truth is, Scorsese revisits old territory in The Departed, and he doesn’t do anything he hasn’t done brilliantly several times before, nor does he discover anything fresh in the material. If all you want is a violent Scorsese gangster picture, grab some popcorn. Personally, I was a bit dispirited that the director found himself married to the mob once again; of course, I also think Kundun is his best movie of the last ten years, so I may be a little out of the mainstream.

Scorsese and writer William Monahan have remade the well-regarded 2002 Hong Kong action flick Infernal Affairs. The premise remains the same: The mob plants one of their guys in the police force, the cops put one of their guys undercover in the mob, and the cat-and-mouse sparks fly. Leonardo DiCaprio (Scorsese’s go-to star in his past three films) is the Donnie Brasco here; Matt Damon is the thug groomed as one of Boston’s finest. I suppose the locale and ethnicity do represent something of a departure point for Scorsese; instead of New York Italians, we have Boston Irish, which, as in so many movies set in Beantown, means much ostentatious dropping of r’s (hometown boys Damon and Mark Wahlberg as an aggressively combative cop come off best).

The Departed follows Damon and DiCaprio as they strain to play their respective roles while trying to stay loyal to their respective bosses; both also compete somewhat for the favor of their shared mobster guardian, played by Jack Nicholson as if he were Jack Nicholson playing a mobster — he’s done better work, though he’s getting lauded for his willingness to go freaky and ugly (his best moment: he steps out and converses with someone casually, his arms spattered with blood up to the elbows, and the movie, in a rare instance of restraint, doesn’t explain what exactly he’s been up to behind closed doors). The raw materials are here for a fast, hard-driving thriller — like Infernal Affairs — but Scorsese draws it out for a lumbering two hours and twenty-nine minutes. Like his friend Steven Spielberg, Scorsese of late has been bitten by the overlength bug.

The length isn’t the only problem. Scorsese frames the proceedings with his customary dynamism, but too much of it feels like a retread. For the third time in a gangster movie, after GoodFellas and Casino, Scorsese hauls out the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (please, man, leave that song alone now) not once but twice, the second time running irrelevantly underneath a conversation between Damon and police shrink Vera Farmiga (who does what she can in a thankless, unnecessary role). Scorsese’s choice of music here seems obvious and enervated, including a Van Morrison cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” It isn’t just the music, though — even the brutality here feels rote, like the work of a Scorsese imitator. The Departed is an exercise for Scorsese, nothing more. All the moves are there; the pulse is restless, but there’s no heart driving it.

After a while, people start to die rapidly, and the movie becomes a nihilistic shooting gallery. Someone is dropped out a window and lands right at DiCaprio’s feet, gore spraying his shirt in a flourish more inadvertently comic than tragic. Jack Nicholson gets dirtier and funkier until he seems ready to cave in under the weight of his own decadence. Much of The Departed’s final hour was an unimpressive blur for me, a parade of narrative “cleverness” resulting in massacres, better suited to the legions of Scorsese wannabes than to the maestro himself. The Oscar talk has already begun; how deeply sad, yet predictable, it would be if Scorsese finally won that long-elusive Best Director trophy for this self-derivative mess. According to legend, the young Scorsese once showed indie-film godhead John Cassavetes his second feature and first mainstream effort, 1972’s Boxcar Bertha, and Cassavetes commented, “It’s good work, but you just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit. Don’t ever do that again.” Ah, where is honest old John now?

Explore posts in the same categories: overrated, remake, thriller

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