Monday, August 13, 2007


RUNTIME: 151 min
RATING: *****

The most impossible thing to do after watching The Departed is to come up with another film that is better paced than this one. If anyone has any reservations regarding re-makes, watch this latest gem from Martin Scorsese. Returning to the grounds that he farms for bread and butter, he has created a picture for the sole purpose of entertaining yet manages to stamp his personality all over the film as only he can. Martin Scorsese is the most of personal film-makers. His first masterpiece, Mean Streets, was semi-autobiographic in nature. He creates fierce entertainers albeit not for everyone and especially not for the ones easily put off by violence. Not because he uses bucketsful of blood like Quentin Tarantino but he knows how to use it for maximum effect, sudden, short, sharp bursts that blow you away with images that linger in your mind for ever.
The Departed is easily the great man’s most easily accessible work to date. Re-made from the Hong Kong smash Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs), this one translates that lean, mean thriller into what is a crime epic, a drama that explores into the world that the original only hints at. In fact, this is a product better than the original, a re-interpretation that improves on the many aspects of the original’s shortcomings bringing along its own bag of tricks.
This is the rarest of those rare thrillers, where characters drive the plot, where each character signifying different shades of integrity, moral and otherwise, with respect to their environments develops the tension around. There’s mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who ‘produces’ the environment around him but is a pretender in his own right, a man who as opposed to telling lies hides the truth. William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a man who has been living in the vicinity of crime all his life, or in his own words ‘pretending’ to be a Costigan all his life. He is the moral centre of the film, the good person looking for redemption all his life, from his surroundings, from his relations, from himself. A man desperate to go to any lengths for achieving that even if that means continuing the pretension. And there is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who is on the opposite end of the spectrum as Costigan. A man who so dazzlingly improvises to attune his environment to suit him. He is the perfect evil, a man whose evil knows no depths, a man devoid of any integrity except for the Colin-serving one. And their struggle to survive in this world full of pretenders is what drives this latest masterpiece from Martin Scorsese.
The script, adapted freely from Mou Gaan Dou is a revelation. William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) delivers a masterful script so full of clear twists and turns driven by amazingly deep characters that it already does half the job of creating a fantastic film. Quotable dialogues keep coming in thick and fast, not because they have a thousand swears punctuating them but because they are so smart and so funny. I was surprised to find Scorsese’s name missing from the credits for script for I naturally assumed that this smart dialogues could only be attributed to him (Goodfellas). Other than the emphasis of characters, there’re two masterstrokes that Monahan scores that firmly elevates this film from its original-1. The introduction of the Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) character and 2. The dissolution of the two needless female characters in the original to one Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) and characterizing her.
Coupled with the longtime associate of Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker the film boasts of an energy that few films can. Numerous sequences are thrown together at the audience, jumping from one to the other in a cycle slowly revealing themselves to the full emotional effect.
Combining the entertaining elements with the philosophical undertones, this is as smart as movies can come. Consistently funny but brutally intense in that unique Scorsese sort of way, the film always keeps in sight its central theme, that of redemption. The film in its entirety delves deeper into the original’s theme of irony. William Costigan wants to be an identifiable cop; Colin wants to lead his life of deception. Only Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam know Bill’s identity, the two people who’re his straw for the redemption he so much desires and they’re as much keen to extract the full payment for that. But Colin is looking for an opportunity, an opportunity to let go off the one man who knows his deception- Frank Costello. And between them is psychiatrist Madolyn who is caught up between the two pretenders, a sort of Face/Off-esque mirror between them. The twists just run deeper and deeper but the twisted characters are the ones that grab my imagination, for that is what elevates this film from being a simple thriller to a crime epic.
The performances, ah, that is a no-brainer. You put talent as rich as DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Sheen, Wahlberg, Baldwin in one room and you wonder about the performances. Of course this is one of the finest ensemble performances, right in the league of another crime masterpiece, L.A.Confidential. DiCaprio is edgy in a strange mixture of Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Charlie (Mean Streets). He is almost the antithesis of Henry Hill (Goodfellas). That guy, who grew in a criminal neighborhood too, said “As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” That is an ambition. I can almost see William Costigan look at Henry and smile at him, and himself too. He would have said to himself “Someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum of this world.” I have heard numerous comments that this is his first mature performance, that he always manages to turn in kid-ish performances. I don’t know what that junk supposedly means apart from that it represents the shallow nature of the comment. I first saw him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and was blown away with the maturity of that performance. He was great in Romeo and Juliet, was a worthy contender for an Academy award nomination for Best actor in Titanic, was better than the best (Tom Hanks) in Catch me if you can and gave one of the great performances of the decade in The Aviator, a performance that De Niro would be proud of. Nevertheless, his performance helps in elevating the movie to its heights. Jack Nicholson is the Tommy (Goodfellas) of this movie, the psycho-tragic evil man whose maniacal instincts are growing wilder by the day. His behemoth figure just fills up the screen and that most unique dialogue delivery of his just works wonders here. His radiating brilliance, along with Wahlberg, brings in fun and loads of them, something what every great crime movie brings in. Wahlberg is special, that fast-talking idiosyncrasy just takes the film several notches up on the entertainment scale whenever he is on screen. He is so good; you root for him to come on more. Ray Winstone, that wonderful British actor is fantastic as well as Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. Alec Baldwin himself has a tremendous screen presence and leaves a mark even though his role barely clocks five minutes. Martin Sheen, that epitome of moral integrity is so wonderful. He gives a performance worthy of the one his corresponding number (Anthony Wong) delivers in the original. The role was initially supposed to go to Robert De Niro but he was busy with The Good Shepherd. I wonder how that would have gone for the original character reminded me of him and his role in Sleepers. Vera Farmiga as the lone female is wonderful, as all Scorsese female leads are. I have always been amazed at how actresses look extra special and extra beautiful in a Scorsese movie. I’ve still to fall out of love with Lorraine Bracco; she looked so dazzling in Goodfellas. Farmiga is special, so very special to hold her own and leave a stamp amongst this plethora of talent. Especially in a sequence tailor made for DiCaprio, she comes out equals. It is the actors and the performances he extracts from them, always, that does half the trick for Martin Scorsese.
The performance of the movie, for me, is that of Matt Damon. The transformation of the corresponding character (Inspector Lau) felt unconvincing. The script made a work around and a masterful improvisation in that, by making him the evil center. And boy, isn’t he good. There is a nonchalance that exists in my definition of the Perfect Evil and Damon exudes that to the fullest. Damon is the most restrained of actors, a feature I hugely appreciate, and he does wonders with that. He always seems to be a mystery; there’s something unknown going behind that brain of his. Damon is a cerebral actor, like De Niro, and here he brings his talent to the fore. Revealing himself only at the last moments is something only someone as him could have pulled off.
That brings me to the direction, and to someone I appreciate the most in the world of cinema. I may be biased but that is me, I worship Martin Scorsese for the work he represents and the ideas he propagates. This is a fantastic show of talent by the master, pulling off an entertainer as Spielberg, pulling off a thriller as Hitchcock and a gangster film as Marty himself. But all I intend to say is this. The Departed is a movie Scorsese would have directed in his sleep. He has already made the definitive movie of the genre in Goodfellas. I wish, as the most ardent of his fans, for him to pursue the passionate streak in him. Scorsese makes films from his heart; he always exerts himself to the maximum, he always re-invents himself through his product. Although identified by the gangster genre, he has given movies that are much more than that. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, The Age of Innocence and The Aviator are all testament to this fact. And honestly, I wish he stopped making that gangster pictures and give me much more of The Aviator and Kundun, for he has always something passionate to say, something that is so profound. Cinema will always grow rich as he keeps directing but him pursuing new avenues would make it richer.
But there’re some minor quibbles here, since it is an entertainer primarily. The lady falling for the edgy man comes across as corny and terribly unconvincing. Plus, a drawback the movie shares with the original, owing to its breakneck pace is the passage of time that is never properly conveyed other than through dialogues. Jack Nicholson sometimes goes over-the-top and there’s an ill-advised sequence of his sexual endeavor that seems terribly out of place. But that comes with the baggage; Nicholson is a force of nature. With him on the set, you cannot always follow your rules. Plus he is so brilliant in the rest of the film. He brought a chill when he delivers his in-Costigan’s-face monologue. And “raaats”, that is pure Jack Nicholson. I wish, so much, Frank Costello would have been played by Daniel-Day Lewis, one of our finest actors and especially the way he played William “The Butcher” Cutting (one of the my greatest on-screen characters of all time). He would have been more than perfect for the part but I guess he wouldn’t have brought the booty in, something Nicholson readily commands. For me, Daniel-Day Lewis in and the movie would have been perfect.
The Departed is one of the finest entries into the crime genre and there is not a shred of doubt. But numerous forums debate which of the two-the original or the re-make is better. My verdict-the original isn’t inferior to the re-make but the re-make is superior to the original. The original was efficient but the re-make is brutal, more in tune with Scorsese’s personal viewpoint of life. At the end of it, I regret only one thing. Colin Sullivan shouldn’t have died, he should have lived on. Improvising Evil always wins, always. But that is me, and my view of things. As far as Marty is concerned, thou rat shalt depart and stay The Departed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You remember the sequence in Ratatouille where Remy listens Gusteau(on TV)and say
"..pure poetry.." making a cute face showing his admiration for the chef?....that always is my reaction when I read your reviews...Great writing man!!