Fearful Symmetry

Film. Books. Comics. TV. Music.

The Departed

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I’ve never been a huge Scorsese fan. There are exceptions – Goodfellas is a masterpiece and I have a soft spot for Casino (both based on true stories which may be the reasons why they are the exception for me or it may just be a coincidence). However, by and large, me and his films have never got on. Taxi Driver has it good parts but most of it, especially the parts with Cybill Shepherd, I find tedious and I’ve never been able to sit through all of Mean Streets.

Recently I had some time to kill and because there was nothing else on I could even began to want to watch I checked out The Departed at the cinema. After all it has had almost unanimous praise from the critics.

And it’s big. Big in length, big on stars and to a certain extent it’s big on scope. The plot is high concept, based on a Korean film I’ve not seen. The cops have a guy in the mob whilst the mob have one of their guys in the cops. Unfortunately from that genius concept things develop into something a bit too complicated and there’s definitely several twists too many by the end (and the final one I saw coming a mile off).

We start several years ago in Boston. Jack Nicolson appears in a drug store offering temptation to some kid. He appears in shadow, the easier for the make-up department to take the years off him, but also to hint at his true nature. The Rolling Stones are playing the background, unfortunately not ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ but ‘Gimme Shelter’ but that’s good enough and probably much more subtle. (Like Goodfellas and Casino, there’s an excellent use of music throughout The Departed) We jump to the present day and Nicolson is now head of the local Irish crime gang. The kid ends up as Matt Damon, a rising star in the police department and Nicolson’s mole.

Meanwhile DiCaprio is also a cop but from the bad side of the tracks. He’s sent deep underover. After all, the films asks us, how far apart are criminals and cops at the end of the day? Plus there’s a deep undercurrent of Catholic guilt going on here. We see the pressure the two men are put under by their duel lives and further complications ensue when they start dating the same woman, though this subplot is not as played out as well as it could have been.

Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg and Ray Winstone put in fine performances among the other secondary characters and Damon and DiCaprio hold their own but Jack Nicolson dominates, doing what Jack does best, a full-throttle theatrical performance, eating up every scene he appears in. At one point he talks about rats – and actually turns into one, pulling a face with his lips pulled up to show off his teeth and scrunching up his nose. You may as well give him the Oscar nomination right now. He’s just about worth the admission price on his own.

Unfortunately several things bring the film down. There’s some really annoying product placement. The plot has various complications involving mobile phones but did everyone really have to, seemingly have, the same make and model? And there’s some slack plotting – a mistake by the cops at a stake-out seemed particularly thick-headed and unlikely and unfortunately by the end it all feels a bit too over-expanded and airless, the plot over-complicated and the themes dissipated and, bar the central concept, not something I’ve seen a million times before.

But then again I’ve got a bit of blind spot regarding Scorsese.

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 8, 2009 at 10:13 am

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