The Departed

When the chance came to go into town for supplies I simply could not pass it up, no matter what the danger. To call where we went a “one horse town” is both an insult to towns and horses. (There was a sign outside the small grocery store that read: “Tired of Turkex? Try Pork!” One assumes they ran out of Ys, but in this town, maybe they really had Turkex.)

But as we were getting ready to leave I saw a small theatre playing THE DEPARTED. After much cajoling and wheedling I convinced the others to stay and watch it. And though I probably should be spending my precious hour with the computer talking about North Korea or yesterday’s 10/11, I am so jackknife and Dakota house right now that all I want to do is make you bounce. And by that I mean talk about THE DEPARTED, and (AND…) talk about the previews too.

Lately I’ve been turning in small movie reviews, quick to match the attention span of most of my readers. Well screw that! I’m putting my hour to good use. Let’s see if I can get 3000 words in about what is possibly the best movie I have seen all year so far:


From director Zach Snyder, whom I’ve never seen (2004’s DAWN OF THE DEAD), based on the story of Sparta and Thermopylae. (And I’m guessing that maybe five of you studied that in school, but you can Wikipedia it, or recall that Tom Cruise talks about it to Ken Watanabe right before the final battle in THE LAST SAMURAI.) The movie stars Gerard Butler, whom was decent in BEOWULF AND GRENDEL and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, both of which I reviewed over on Movie-Hype.

The reason I mention all of this is that the trailer is hella-cool. Just take a look for yourselves: was not really enough for me to get a sense whether this movie will rock, but I did notice the director is Edward Zwick. Is there a better director out there totally below the radar? The dude has made THE LAST SAMURAI, THE SIEGE, COURAGE UNDER FIRE, LEGENDS OF THE FALL and GLORY. That’s some studmuffinry right there.

A guy in the row behind us said it best: “How can they make a documentary about something that hasn’t happened?” For realz. Leaving aside the argument about whether or not this movie should have been made, the trailer was boring. Not sure if this is the same one, but probably is. See for yourself: I mean, if you’re going to make a movie that controversial, why not go all out and make the preview menacing and audacious. I loathe Michael Moore like I do large genital warts on a stripper, but at least his previews pop and sizzle, you know?

I don’t even know if I got the title right. It wasn’t a preview, but a poster in the “lobby” on our way out. I mention it only because the film stars George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, was written by Paul Attanasio and is directed by Steven Soderberg. Someone find the trailer link and post it over on Monkey Barn, okay?


Film students like to quibble and show you how smart they are by naming Richard Linkletter or even Robert Altman the best living American Director, but most people usually lean towards Spielberg. I have always been in that camp, but I am beginning to wonder if Martin Scorsese should not be smack dab in the middle of the argument. Missing from most of the ‘90s, Scorsese has come roaring back with three incredible films this decade, each unique, grand and breathtaking.

In 2002 he made GANGS OF NEW YORK, a flawed but incredible movie I picked for Best Picture over THE TWO TOWERS and THE PIANIST. I had never seen anyone “get” Tribalism before, a subject more important to me than virtually any other. I better quit now, or I will spend 3000 words just on GANGS.

Two years later Scorsese came back with THE AVIATOR, a display of pure magical filmmaking that I am not sure has ever been surpassed, and I mean ever. (EVER!)

Leonardo DiCaprio was in both of those films, and apparently these two have found each other, for Leo appears once again in Scorsese’s newest epic, THE DEPARTED.

We’ll get back to Leo in a sec, but I need to point out this stellar cast: Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and of course the immortal Jack Nicholson, in a role so deliciously evil that it would be an absolute lead-pipe cinch for a nomination from any other actor. Jack has 12 of those nominations already, but I expect him to get another.

And, I got to say, although the major movies have not come out yet, if DiCaprio was nominated for a third time it would totally be earned too.

But back to that cast. How many directors can pull A-List talent—many of them Oscar nominees themselves, and put them in small roles? Alec Baldwin is used to being the lead. Martin Sheen usually gets more screen time. I know Mark Wahlberg usually gets a before-the-title credit. All of these guys—and quite a few others—come together and take the role they are given, and work seamlessly into it—because of Martin Scorsese.

He is called an actor’s director, and I am sure he is. He might also be the most knowledgeable person in the world about film. DiCaprio said in an interview once that Scorsese has seen virtually every film made before 1980. I don’t doubt it. Every time there is a big Anniversary Edition of some famous movie they always get Scorsese for a featurette or two. The man just breathes film, and it shows in his movies.

I don’t want to be pompous or make grand statements here, but I am just going to declare it (and prove me wrong, have I misstepped): Martin Scorsese uses his camera in an unparalleled way among all actors. You think of the directors who had the greatest eye for the shot: John Ford, Renoir, Kurosawa. I think Scorsese might top them all.

I suppose we should actually talk about this movie, although I almost feel it is an insult to Scorsese to do so. The man is a god: you damn well get off your ass and go see his movies, without knowing thing one about them!


I’ll be nice.

THE DEPARTED is based on a Hong Kong film called INFERNAL AFFAIRS, although it is not a remake; just the loose idea. Basically here we are: the Massachusetts State Police are determined to bring down the Irish Mob in Boston. To do so they place William Costington (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a mole in the Crew of the top Mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). He realizes there is a mole, and is trying to figure out who.

At the same time Costello has a mole of his own: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a rising star in the Mass. St. Police. It is a race to see who can identify which rat first.

This is the part of the review where I mention that Scorsese does not make kids’ flicks. Many of his movies inhabit the world of crime, and he has an innate understanding of how that works. Sam Mendes said once he was taught to film your murders like love scenes (and your love scenes like murders). Scorsese does not ascribe to this. His murders are cruel, gruesome, sudden, always horrific and terrible, the way murder actually is. THE DEPARTED is very violent, made all the more so because you rarely have warning it is coming. Secondly (and hopefully this does not bother most of you, but it needs be said), Scorsese seems to be in a running battle with Spike Lee on who can get the most “F-Words” into his films. There is actually a site you can go to where they count them, if someone wants to look that up, but suffice it to say that only the chick can go more than two sentences without “fuck this” or “cunt that.” Because I understand that people in this world (both the mobsters and the cops) just talk this way, I didn’t think much of it, but some of you are a little more delicate, so fair warning.

More than both of those, though: the hardest part about watching THE DEPARTED is the tension. From the moment William Costington goes undercover he is under immense pressure. The moment he’s found out he’s dead, with probably a whole lot of pain and suffering beforehand.

DiCaprio plays his character with so much tension around the shoulders, and haunted eyes. It is a stunning performance. So much so that I feel the need to say—and this is weird for a guy twice nominated—that DiCaprio seems to have fallen into that Brad Pitt mold, in the sense that because of his good looks and star quality, people sort of right him off as a light weight. Hey: I’m not a big fan of his politics, or perhaps more specifically his assumption that he knows of whence he speaks, but the man can fucking act. (Sorry, but writing about this movie, it is almost impossible not to get into major swearing mode myself.) Take a look at DiCaprio’s credits. I believe he is 31, and already has at least 7 or 8 super impressive roles under his belt. This guy is for real.

This brings us back to Jack. If Leo is awesome—and he is, Jack is out of this world. He doesn’t act much anymore, and he’s been doing some comedies, often coasting, but he reminds us again why he is the fucking man. Frank Costello is the best bad guy since Hannibal. (Wait a minute: I’m just remembering Daniel Day Lewis in GANGS and of course Ralph Fiennes in SCHINDLER, so I don’t want to make absolute statements. I will say this: Frank Costello is better—to me—than Denzel’s TRAINING DAY performance,)

Vera Farmiga is the girl, and I can’t decide whether she’s hot or not. I’ve seen her in several things and always have the same reaction. I do know I am bothered by her eyes, so I suppose that’s what she’s going for. Ray Winstone also has a good turn (he was Bors in KING ARTHUR), and I need to mention that Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin are all perfect. Matt Damon is reliable too, although it’s sort of a muted performance—perhaps on purpose—and I could perhaps wish for just a tad more emotion. Maybe not, though. You don’t want to upstage the crucible Leo goes through.

The music—like every Scorsese picture—permeates everything, at times a lovers’ caress in the background, at times a bend-you-over assault to the senses, but always adding. We’ve spoken of the camera work, so what more can I say there? The only other thing I can really think of is that everyone—and I mean everyone—has there accents down cold. I think we forget sometimes that Wahlberg and Damon are from Boston, and that’s how they really talk.

It’s hard to say whether Hollywood will shower THE DEPARTED with the deserved Oscar nominations. With this cast and this filmmaker, and more importantly, this quality, you think it’d be a shoo-in. Sometimes it’s weird, though. Hollywood occasionally gets squeamish about a movie this dark.

But that is not for us to ponder, at least not until the fuller landscape of worthy pictures have been digested. For now, all you need know is that Martin Scorsese has turned in another triumph. You should see it for Leo. You should see it for Jack. You should see it for the rest of the cast. You should see it for the taught story, which had me literally holding my breath at the phone call scene toward the end. (Best tension ever. EVER!)

But most of all, you should see THE DEPARTED for Martin Scorsese. He’s earned it, and he seems to just keep getting better.

Okay: I didn’t get 3000, but I passed 2000! Yay for me! I have to go, but please check out Monkey Barn. They are blowing up over there! It’s sweet.

And make sure to send me your thoughts on WIZARD OF OZ vs. THE PRINCESS BRIDE to and if you have any top ten lists, send them there, too.

Speaking of top tens, I’m going to try to get a list of Martin Scorsese movies done. And I still need to tell you about Thanksgiving! (Although, at this point, I could just shut up about it and bring this up again at Real Thanksgiving and none of you would be the wiser. However, who knows how long the Internet thing will last, so I’ll try. See you tomorry!

October 12, 206
3:46 am


tiff said...

Back in the year 206, Hyperion invented the internet. :>

OK - guess I'll go see the movie. You convinced me.

Lady Jane Scarlett said...

For a dude in exile, you sure are prolific...
It's good to see you back, in a manner of speaking.

Sea Hag said...

I actually saw the movie before I read this! Go Sea Hag, it's your birthday. Gonna party like it's your birthday.

Anyway, great movie. It really is violent though, for anyone who is squeemish. It's rare to see a movie take advantage of such a good cast and to fit all the plot threads together so well, and to play up the tension the way Scorsese did. I loved Mark Wahlberg in this, too (what ever happened to Donnie, by the way?). I just saw him in 'I Heart Huckabees' and while that movie was...odd, Marky Mark was really, really good. WORD!