Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It's hard to describe this movie without using that wonderful Boston phrase "wicked awesome," so I'll just get it out of the way now and move on. THE DEPARTED finds Scorsese in full-on entertainer mode, creating his most audience-pleasing film since GOODFELLAS, but as with GOODFELLAS there's more going on than a superlative genre offering. THE DEPARTED, like the original INFERNAL AFFAIRS, is at its core a study in opposites- with that ingenious premise (cop infiltrates the mob, gangster infiltrates the cops), how could it not be? But whereas the HK version concentrated on the central dichotomy, Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan expand the story's scope and find good-and-evil counterparts throughout- Damon vs. DiCaprio, good father-figure Martin Sheen vs. bad-dad Jack Nicholson, aggressive second-bananas Mark Wahlberg vs. Ray Winstone, etc. Another recurring theme in the film is numbness (the song "Comfortably Numb," Jack throwing a fistful of coke at his girlfriend and directing her "don't move till you're numb"), in particular the kind of numbness that sets in when a person's moral compass is busted. As Nicholson says in the opening monologue, "they told us we could either be cops or criminals... but when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?" The running time for THE DEPARTED is roughly 2 1/2 hours, but for its length there's almost no fat in the film, and the first 90 minutes or so establish the characters so firmly that once the cops-and-robbers conflict finally comes to a head (around the time a body drops from the top of a building), everything has been set up perfectly. DiCaprio has the showier role of the two leads, but Damon is equally good, and Scorsese was wise to cast him as the mob's man in the State Police- his golden-boy smile is an asset for the character, while his intent, loaded stare and broad body are surprisingly menacing. The supporting cast- Nicholson, Winstone, Sheen, Vera Farmiga- is the best I've encountered all year, with Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin alternating scene-stealing duties as the two most vocal lawmen on the force. THE DEPARTED isn't quite perfect- in a film that doesn't really insist on itself for the most part, the final scene is over-emphatic- but it's Hollywood filmmaking of the highest order, and as rewarding a time as I've had at the multiplex all year. Rating: ***1/2.

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