Friday, October 06, 2006

The Departed - Move Review

The Departed 2006

Recently, we attended an advance screening for the much anticipated “The Departed” courtesy of our dear chum Joey B. a.k.a. “A Man Called Horse”. Directed by maestro Martin Scorsese and featuring a true line up of talented stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and Vera Farmiga – the expectations for this undercover cop thriller were high indeed. To be perfectly honest to our fans, our expectations were met with the casting of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg – wet panty-fest anyone? Add some great character actors and one of the greatest living directors, and how could it possibly miss?
Well, we’ll tell you. The preview we watched was one of those cocktease audience “focus groups” kinds of shinding, where the movie is not completely finished. For example, it was a video print we watched, not film, sans the final music, color adjustments and final edit. In other words, a protracted teaser meant to inspire you to tell your friends to run and go see it, if you enjoyed the film and to badmouth it if you hated it. Horse didn’t care for it one iota, calling it the worst film he had seen that year. We enjoyed many things about it, but remained unconvinced that we had actually seen the finished film. We vowed to return to see the final print. And boy howdy, are we ever glad we did.

For “The Departed” plays as a sort of follow up to Scorsese’s grand “Goodfellas”. A crime caper spanning multi story lines, years and various locales telling the tale of organized crime and the inevitable costs to human lives. After we had watched the final product, we were convinced – Martin Scorsese has done it again. Providing the much starved movie going public with a rollicking and grisly ride through his familiar mob territory, played strictly as a popcorn movie deluxe. If you enjoy your popcorn with blood, guts and some gristle liberally sprinkled throughout. And who doesn’t enjoy that.

Matt Damon delivers a solid lead performance as police officer Colin Sullivan who as a child encounters the local bully, one Frank Costello who not only shakes down small businesses for protection money, but will bash your head through the nearest window to ensure his on time delivery. All while managing to stop and pay attention to a small impressionable boy who strikes him as a “good kid”, in need of some spare change. Change that could well guarantee his future devotion to this Boston area mob kingpin.

Leonardo DiCaprio is outstanding in the more complex role of a police cadet in training, bravely attempting to make something out of his life now that his family life lies in ruins. Ruins brought about we will learn from their ties to the very mob he will one day infiltrate as an undercover police officer in an attempt to bring the whole building down upon their ears. His Billy Costigan is mesmerizing to watch: the slow building anger that carries him through the most sordid and gruesome work he must carry out in the name of justice is played to perfection. It is even more amazing when you realize that he acts rings around the very impressive supporting cast, beginning with one of the most recognized names in the industry.

Jack Nicholson, the onetime greatest actor of his generation has slowly over the years developed a hideous case of “hambone deluxe” when it comes to portraying oddballs with a penchant for lechery, booze, ticks, farts, quirks and too many neurotic tendencies to enumerate in the span of this review. Suffice to say if he had never filmed Tim Burton’sBatman”, the world might have been spared an actor masturbating his way through too many overbaked character parts in his doddering old age. Thankfully, as Frank Costello, the most degenerate mob boss this side of Caligula – he has found the perfect role for his excesses to the point that they seem fairly toned down. How toned down, when he waves dildos, dismembered appendages and snorts coke by the fistfuls is up for debate. But truly, this time the role is so grand, it fits Nicholson like a snug blood smattered t-shirt.

The other young hunk in the pic, is more problematic. Mark Wahlberg had us during his Calvin Klein Funky Bunch wearing days. Sweet baby Jesus, what a deliciously ripe young muscle puppy he was and is. Here he portrays Dignam, an officer involved in hand selecting the lucky bloke that will turn their life into hell itself to go undercover as one of Costello’s goons. While he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself, neither is he up to the level of the rest of the cast. His performance relies more on glowering and snapping his dialogue while maintaining two postures: hands in pockets, or arms crossed. It might be time for some brush up acting courses, Mr. Wahlberg – but we still think you’re dreamy.

The elder statesmen and one time hotties themselves, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen portray opposing forces in the police world. Alec finds every opportunity to outclass his costars and steals every scene he’s in with a wicked sense of humor as Ellerby, the lead in charge of bringing down the organized crime world in the Boston area, working reluctantly with the FBI in all matters.

Martin Sheen is very fine as Oliver Queenan, the man in charge of the undercover unit who guards his informant’s identity with his very life in necessary.

And as the therapist assigned to deal with those policemen and women who find the need to cry on somebody’s shoulder when the going gets too grisly, our gal Vera Farmiga portrays Madeleine, a seemingly pulled together young woman who takes her job very seriously, but not too seriously enough to avoid getting involved with one of her clients. One of the movies many unexpected pleasures was the nicely detailed relationships between Madeleine and Colin. Where other directors might have avoided a love angle or skated over it briefly, Scorsese fits it in quite nicely amidst the urban cop thriller antics. All of which pays off beautifully in the closing moments of the grander drama. For "The Departed" is the kind of old fashioned movie making entertainment that has rarely been offered as of late. Oh, the blood and body count may be high, and there is certainly no morality meter taking score of who has fucked whom over and we for once were more than fine with that.

The difference between this film and the abysmal “Miami Vice” which explored similar territory earlier this year is this: “Miami Vice” sucked, “The Departed” soars. Michael Mann filmed his TV adaptation with a complete lack of a sense of humor and a focus on bloodshed that bordered on the psychopathic. Martin Scorsese has seen his fair share of blood battles and guns in his time, so he knows when and where to place them for maximum effect. His violence is not gratuitous; it actually for once feels endemic to the storyline.

These are men and women driven to the breaking point by their careers that revolve around violence and mayhem. Their day to day involvement in lying, scheming, double crossing and possibly murdering each other in the name of truth and justice plays out as a passion play and not a morality tale. For there is precious little morality on display in the main characters.

Billy Costigan is a man so driven to succeed and overcome his stained childhood that he is willing to sell his soul to the devil in order to achieve a modicum of success. Colin Sullivan is a man who learned early on that everything comes with a pricetag, including loyalty, love and honor. What Scorsese does so well in this movie is to look at each character as being completely true to themselves while they simultaneously bring each other down to the basest animal level.

We don’t need to sympathize or understand the motivations of the characters, because they are the basic motivations found in humanity. Greed, ambition, envy, lust, pride . . . hmmmm, where have we heard those before? Makes no never mind. “The Departed” works so well as a fast paced, expertly filmed and brilliantly edited movie: that we are blissfully carried through some powerfully violent scenes to the inevitable “Hamlet” like bloodbath that would seem to be the only possible outcome for a group of characters who chose long ago to play loudly with some awfully dangerous sticks.

This movie is not the most profound or overtly lavish or perfectly made film in Scorsese’s oeuvre, but is certainly among his most visceral and polished. Another feather in his already filled cap that will probably garner many accolades. And since the man has five failed Oscar nominations for Best Director, we wouldn’t mind at all if he managed to finally accept and fondle the little bald gold man for so entertaining a film as “The Departed”. Bless you all!

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by William Monahan
Based on a screenplay by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong

Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan
Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan
Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello
Vera Farmiga as Madeleine
Martin Sheen as Oliver Queenan
Mark Wahlberg as Dignam
Anthony Anderson as Brown
Ray Winstone as Mr. French
Alec Baldwin as Ellerby

Original Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker
Costume Design by Sandy Powell
Production Design by Kristi Zea
Art Direction by Teresa Carriker-Thayer and Nicholas Lundy
Set Decoration by Leslie E. Rollins



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