Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Departed (2006)

Crime dramas don't get much more exhilarating than this, Martin Scorsese's loosest work in years. Of course it's sharp and compelling and formally impressive, all the stuff generally expected from Scorsese; what surprises is that this film, built around twin life-or-death situations and constructed from slickness and paranoia, is funny. Really funny. Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg, in particular, tear into the delirious profanity of William Monahan's twin-barrel adaptation with gusto. (Best exchange, bar none: "How's your mother?" "Good. Still tired from fucking my father.") The premise, imported from the HK action winner Infernal Affairs, turns out to be as close to unfuckupable as most people suspected, and all Monahan and Scorsese really had to do was give the plot wheels a little push and everything would have turned out fine. Instead of that just-add-water approach that would have enticed lesser filmmakers into creating a mere punch-press modest entertainment, they aim big. Infernal Affairs is infused with a marvelous sense of local Boston color and enough close character work to propel the average novel; these inclusions transform the film from a crackerjack thriller into something more satisfying -- a gusting tapestry of human nature under pressure, at turns hilarious and heart-stopping. The jumbo canvas sounds daunting, but I can't think of a film this year that better utilizes every minute of screen time. Maybe it's a bit impersonal, a bit Hollywood for an iconoclast like Scorsese (and for the record, the thunderous Gangs of New York is still his best film of the decade), but The Departed is good enough to make you wonder why he doesn't do this more often.

[Bonus: Frequent correspondent Andy Nowicki has an interesting take regarding queer subtext and one of the film's major characters, which certainly seems to fit given the film's obsession with machismo. I reproduce it here with his permission. Beware of SPOILERS and all that:

"It's all surrounding the Matt Damon character. While training to be a cop, he calls the firemen and other people he doesn't like 'homos,' in such a manner than suggests he may be projecting. After he becomes a cop, he spends a lot of time ogling women in the office, in a way that seems calculated to prove to others and himself that he's into women. When he manages to charm the psychiatrist chick into bed, he can't perform sexually. He seems nervous around her whenever she tries to get intimate. At one point, he starts kissing her after the phone has already rung once, then he acts exasperated, as if he didn't want to be interrupted, but it's just for show. I think this also happens at another point, when the doorbell rings. When he goes to the porn movie, and Nicholson turns toward him holding a gigantic fake penis, this also seems like a moment when in some way he's being forced to see some aspect of himself for what he truly is. And when DiCaprio finds out that he's truly the mole within police force, he angrily calls him a 'faggot.' (This isn't to say that DiCaprio thinks he's actually gay; it's just an insult, but it's significant, I think, that the screenplay of the movie puts this word into his mouth at this point-- when he's found out the truth about Damon's real identity.) Finally, there is a lot of innuendo from Nicholson's character regarding Catholic priests in Boston all being homos who want to get it on with altar boys-- and guess who was an altar boy when he was young? Damon's character.

Also, a central theme in the movie is the notion of pretending to be something you aren't (a hoodlum pretending to be a cop, a cop masquerading as a hoodlum). It seems that being a repressed homosexual fits in with that theme very nicely. I think it's very subtly done, but it's there."]

Grade: A-


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