Friday, August 27, 2010

The Departed

I watched The Departed last night at the behest of The Sole Heir. I remember how impressed I was coming out of the theater the first time I saw it. I've seen it three or four time since, and, frankly, it's not holding up all that well. It's still good, and I'm sure I'll watch it again. It's just that the holes are more evident every time I watch, and the things that made it special have to work a little harder to hold it together each time.

Most of what holds it together is the acting. I know a lot of people like to rip this movie because of the accents; they don't bother me so much. I lived in the Boston area for four years, and there are Boston accents and Boston accents. None of them bothered me enough to take me out of the movie. The performances in general more than made up for any accental flaws. (Yes, I made that word up.)

DiCaprio and Damon are great, playing the opposite sides of the coin. Nicholson's risky in places, but no bones are made about the fact that Frank Costello is crazy, and getting worse. The character depicted by Nicholson is definitely batshit crazy. Martin Sheen has the most troublesome accent, but the humanity he brings to Captain Queenan more than makes up for it. No one has more obvious fun acting than Alec Baldwin. Mark Wahlberg's character is awkwardly written, but he carries it off naturally. Ray Winstone was born to play in crime flicks (if you haven't seen Sexy Beast, do so), and Vera Farmiga was a revelation.

Scorsese's direction is the equivalent of an actor choosing to be a movie star instead of an actor. Everything is there, and it's dazzling in parts, but it lacks the "go to hell" character of Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. He may have entered the phase of directing Raymond Chandler warned about for writers, where one has all the techniques and nothing new to say. The overall effect is still commanding, especially on first viewing on the big screen. The seams become a little more obvious with subsequent evaluations.

Now we come to the weaknesses, and they are several. To wit (spoilers abound, so beware):

- The premise. Given the research done on these elite cops and the depth of knowledge Queenan and Dignan have on Bill Costigan, how can they not know Colin Sullivan and Frank Costello go way back. It's not like they made it a big secret; Costello did a drive-by at the Academy graduation ceremony.

- Cittizens Citizen's Trust. The misspelled envelope is the key to Costigan's uncovering Sullivan as the mole, but there's no need for it. Everyone in Costello's crew writes their vitals on pieces of paper that are places in the envelope to be delivered to Sullivan. Why does Fitz alone wtite his bank information on the outside? There's nothing there that identifies whose bank that is. The whole thing is done solely so Costigan can find it on Sullivan's desk later.

- Sullivan erasing Costigan's record. There's no way a staff sergeant is going to be able to erase such a well-protected, permanent record from this sensitive a database. I'm a senior administrator for a training tracking system of much lower sensitivity, and I couldn't do it. There's no way Sullivan can.

- The rat scurrying along the railing on a seventh floor balcony. Please.

There are some great scenes, Scorses's a master at them. Costigan ordering cranberry juice in the bar the night he meets Mr. French is a favorite. Still, for me, The Departed has shifted from a brilliant movie to a flawed connection of excellent scenes, the whole less than the sum of its parts. Well worth watching, but not Scorsese's best work.

(Due credit should be given to John McFetridge's rant during the 2008 Bouchercon. He got me thinking about some things I hadn't before, and, as is so often the case when he and I initially disagree, he was right. Bastard.)

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