So I'm a big fan of Scorsese. He brings so much to film: as a filmmaker, as a director of actors, as a cinephile. To watch his career is to get an education on the history of cinema. His movies drip with the touches of DeSica, Hawks, Ford, Ozu and countless others. Moreso Scorsese is impressive because of his indifference to scholarly groupthink. His documentary A Personal Journey through American Cinema with Martin Scorses begins not with any Citizen Kane or Tolerance but with the schlocky Western Duel in the Sun that was about a rancher and the half-breed maid he assaulted, fell in love with and was finally killed by. The movie was decried by the Catholic Church. Scorsese's mother took him to it as a young boy, using the young Marty as an excuse to see what all the fuss is about.
That story is very important. Not only in explaining the perspective Scorsese has towards cinema but how all people come to art. Art isn't only a flawless totem. Often it is entertainment, pleasure often excited by some of its own forbidden corners. Art can many times be part gaudy and cheap. But how it serves us is much more profound then that. Often many of the things we love are flawed or careless. The love operates on many parts of the anatomy that aren't the brain. The flesh, the fingers, the sex. To talk about art where those parts are forbidden from the conversation is to not talk about art at all. It's academic wanking.
And so when many talk about Scorsese they give you the high pillars: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas. The really impressed break out the underrated second tier: Mean Streets, Last Temptation of Christ, The Color of Money, Casino. As great as these films are they give you a heavily biased perspective into the Scorsese oeurve and this is the one that most people live with:
What sort of movies does Scorsese make?
"Gangster pictures... um, movies about psychos and outsiders."
Of course the real filmheads then break out the whole third string class of his films: Scorsese's coked up highly flawed musical New York New York, King of Comedy, the atrocious After Hours, the highly flawed Gangs of New York or the highly underrated Bringing out the Dead. He's done all sorts of films. But even with all of these considered, there is an inherit bias: that of high art Importance and Reverence.
And that leads us to The Departed. After seeing it I knew exactly what was going to happen: people where going to compare it to his last Scorsese (e.g. modern gangster) movies, Casino/Goodfellas, and either declare it the greatest fucking thing ever or calling it a sad impersonation of himself.
The dickweeds (see Jim Emerson... who BTW now that Ebert is back, should stop writing reviews and just go choke on an exhaust pipe) will then gloat that The Departed is "obviously" inferior to the film that it is a remake of, the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs.
The reason? Because movies from other countries where people don't speak English obviously are much more Important. Also a Remake is automatically inferior to the Original. It's the same hipster insecurity complex that is consently seeking for authenticity and does so by attaching itself to older or indigenous things disregarding any actual objective comparison of quality.
Listen, I own Infernal Affairs and I've seen The Departed twice. I'm also a big fan of Scorsese and HK crime films. The critics are full of shit. Mostly because they are judging The Departed on their preconceptions and not the movie that it is.
The first thing the elitist dildos will tell you is that The Departed doesn't have the gravitas of Goodfellas or Raging Bull or any of the top flight Scorsese films.
Well no shit. Neither did Infernal Affairs. Both are action thrillers. This should have been obvious by the levels of over the top violence and ridiculousness going on. A movie about a gangster turned cop and cop turned gangster double agents is supposed to be realistic? Getthefuckouttahere. Movies like this are supposed to quicken the pulse, ratchet up the tension and settle big scores. That The Departed does that where most mainstream movies fail by making the audience numb with their endless onslaught of noise just tells you about the relative quality of the two.
Anyone with half a brain and IMDB would have seen that Scorsese had already done this once before: Cape Fear. Just like The Departed it was a remake (check) of a classic crime thriller (check) with a huge actor (check) playing the major antagonist role (check) who, in Scorsese's movie, was built up to an unreal level (check).
Of course Cape Fear was a fun, creepy and exciting movie. It was also the only Scorsese movie (until The Departed) to win its opening box office. It was his only movie (until The Departed) to do very well in the box office. Of course like other Scorsese movies it worked extremely well, was highly quotable, and got fantastic performances out of its cast (like The Departed).
The jerkoffs completely forget about it- because it seeks to please the crowd. Because it has no deep penetrating levels of Importance. Because it wasn't made with just them in mind. But fuck them. Scorsese knows the truth: that Big Hollywood has been many times Important. That accessible satisfying films can have breadth as well as depth. That the mainstream isn't only just the mob to be cowed with circuses and fights. Many great movies operate on all the other endrogynous zones. Many great movies are Duels in the Sun. And what Scorsese has created with The Departed is a great action thriller, the sort Michael Mann or DePalma make (btw, if one of those two had made this movie we wouldn't be having this conversation).
So what is so great about The Departed? What I said above: Scorsese built a great movie. It is two and a half hours long but it flies by. It's gripping from beginning to end. Matt Damon as the cop with a bad side is charismatic, and wiley. He wields his boyishness to wind his way through his doublelife. Leo finally got a role that sat well for him. I'm not a big DeCaprio fan because he thinks he's Johnny Depp when he isn't. Leo has a far more limited range. He can't do brooding/tough. He doesn't feel mysterious. His ability to be subsumed by a character is not great. He can emote and hit all the notes in a role but you can't expect him to transform into a 16 wheeler. There's a throw away line where he says "You don't have cats... I like that." It's the sort of banal conversation we have, we feel how stupid it is as we're saying it, but we let it because of our own lack of saying what needs to really be said. Leo hits it right on with a sort of "I just noticed/I don't know what else to say right now".
Jack Nicholson is great as well. It's a Jack role: he's expected to be the sort of looney he's sort of hinted at for a while. He's the 800lbs Gorilla in this movie. And he carries it that way. In Infernal Affairs the boss character Jack plays was much more bland. He was threatening but more of just a functional component for the two leads to orbit around. The critics have rolled their eyes at the over the top touches added to the boss but I think it fits perfectly. To make the character any less would have him disappear into the background. Scorsese and Monahan (the screenwriter) knew that they wanted him to be brought out into the front. You do that in an action movie by giving the character bite. You do that by not just making the character eccentric but by giving him an autonomy so that when you put him solo on the screen, he bleeds over the edges. The entire opening with Jack in silhouette grinding on about Boston and crime or when he's feeling out Leo's character in the restaurant because he fears that there's a rat in his unit... well the scenes only carry with their weight because the boss has been given ample notes to carry the solos. The same shit is said about Pacino in Scarface, DeNiro in Cape Fear or Tom Cruise in Collateral (though that one now seems that it wasn't much of a stretch *zing!*). As the zeitgeist has taken in these roles, the critics have been forced in time to give them the basic respect they deserve.
But Scorsese's acumen is demonstrated by how he's able to squeeze so many fucking great roles out of secondary characters. Mark Walberg and Alec Baldwin are so fucking over the top, so fucking goddamn quotable, as the police leads. They hit the Boston accent right on while building up these wonderful characters. Goddamn, do you know how ready I am to break out "I'm the guy who does his fucking job. You must be the other guy." at work? C'mon.
"Go fuck yourself/I'm tired from fucking your wife/How is your mother?/Good, she's tired from fucking my father."
"Patriot Act! Patriot Act! I love the Patriot Act! "
"Want a smoke? What you don't smoke? What are you some kind of fitness freak? Fuck you."
"You may play a tough guy for your gangster friends, but you don't get nothing past me, you lace-curtain Irish fucking pussy!"
"Marriage is an important part of getting ahead. It lets people know you're not a homo. A married guy seems more stable. People see the ring, they think "at least somebody can stand the son of a bitch. Ladies see the ring, they know immediately that you must have some cash, and your cock must work."
And then there's the criminals. "What, you on your period?" The whole "If they don't look at you they must be a cop" conversation. Everything so classic. And that's important in a thriller: because it gets the audience empathizing with the characters. Both times I saw the movie the audience gasped when Martin Sheen was thrown off the building. He was the most sympathetic character. He as a father figure to Leo. When he died Leo was in the fucking dark. I would also give some time to Vera Farmiga but she has gotten two Gray Lady blowjobs in the last month so no reason to treat it like a Cuban sex show.
Of course the complaint is that Scorsese lost all the "seriousness" that made Infernal Affairs so great. No way could Matt Damon text a message one handed. The whole quadruple cross at the end with everyone dying from a headwound and the rat in the last shot. Uh, yeah. Does anybody remember that the two leads in Infernal Affairs met when one of them sold the other guy audio cables after they sat quietly together in front of the showroom speakers listening to music with their eyes closed? Infernal Affairs was so over the top in the two leads so like totally knowing each other but not like knowing the other guy's the other guy's rat!!! Monahan did the smart thing and spread the two out. Anyone with half a brain and access to the two would have otherwise figured the damn thing out. And there are a half-dozen characters like that in this movie: the two undercover police heads, the therapist, the crime boss. Infernal Affairs was *this* close to having them run into each other at the same Starbucks every morning.
And texting in a pocket is bad? How about nonchalantly leaning out of a window to tap Morse code into a wire you placed under the windowsill?
The ending of The Departed is over the top. But hopefully by now that would seem to be natural to the movie itself. The one thing its ending has over the one in Infernal Affairs was that it provided a satisfying amount of closure. Infernal Affairs doesn't end with Leo and Matt and Anthony Anderson and that other guy all dying from gunwounds. It ends with the undercover dead and the Matt character going to jail. Freezeframe. Roll credits.
"... Oh," is your reaction when you are sitting there.
It explains why there have been like five sequels to the damn thing too: the original ends on such an unsatisfactory note. Nothing really gets resolved. One guy's dead and the other is going to jail... ok.
Now could have The Departed ended on less of a slapstick sequence? Probably. By the third headshot the audience is usually laughing out loud. A lot of people hate it. If they just would have avoided killing three people in a single shot (setting up a triple cross) and instead had Leo get shot, Anthony Anderson get shot and then Matt and the other guy drive away only to have Matt, I dunno, shoot him then? It might have seemed like less of a Greek tragedy. But Scorsese has also always held a love for old black Italian drama. The sort of thing where EVERYBODY DIES IN THE END. Shit, it's how all three of The Godfather movies work. In a way The Departed doesn't earn that sequence.
But it at least tells you there ain't going to be no damn sequel directed by Michael Bay.
Scorsese had fun with this. Like After Hours you can see him having fun with this (after the similarly soul-crushing expeditions to create Last Temptation and Gangs of NY). The rat running along the last shot? That's him winking at you. That's him throwing it in the faces of the critics who want to drop him into a five by five cell of Goodfellas and Raging Bull. The sort of assholes who would never enjoy a Jerry Bruckheimer movie or some piece of shit starring Stallone in the 80's. They're the sort of guys who can't ever approach a John Ford or Sam Peckinpah film with the glee of a teenage boy. You wonder if these guys have ever used their dicks in their lives. For them, the rat running across the last shot was Marty squirting a big load of jizz in their face.
The Departed is an action movie. It will thrill you, you will laugh with it, you will laugh at it. You will be entertained. Such are the things that make life good.