The Departed

Last night I downloaded Scorsese's The Departed. I'd been waiting for it to become available on my preferred rental site (hint, hint Hollywood), as it did yesterday. But I can't say that I wasn't a bit disappointed. It's a good film, but not a great one. It makes clear that Scorsese's Oscar this year was really a "body of work" recognition. The Departed is not his greatest movie... not by a long shot.

The film has all the right stuff of a gritty crime story, but still fails on several levels. Never mind the actors forgetting to stay abreast of their Boston accents (to his credit Matt Damon can do a real Boston accent, as can Wahlburg, of course). And forget that several scenes that were supposed to be Boston but were obviously shot in New York (one scene includes a clear view of the Throgs Neck Bridge!). The real problem is with the pacing of the movie. It plods along through its mid section, trying to cover a detailed effort to take down a crime syndicate. But it ends with a furious culmination that leaves the impression that most of the story is piled into the the last half hour of the movie.

And another thing. This should have been Mark Wahlburg's movie. Scorsese took a shot with a relatively unknown talent, Ray Liotta, in the lead for Goodfellas. The results speak for themselves. He should have taken a similar chance on Wahlburg. Given the right roles, yesterday's Marky Mark may someday be recognized as one of Hollywood top talent. The lead role in The Departed might well have put him on that path and helped him reach Cruise/DeNiro territory.

The lead character is of a complex social hi-bred, the product of a father from Southy and a mother from the North Shore (read Brahman). This mixed pedigree state police trooper is put undercover with the Irish mob, led by a character somewhat overplayed by Jack Nicholson. While investigating Nicholson's crew, he needs to call on the full force of his father's background.

Wahlburg is a real life a Southy kid and could have made this this the roll of a lifetime. Although he was very good as a Mass State Trooper, for which he got an Oscar nomination, he should have been given the lead. It would have made the movie.

That said, Leonard Di Caprio, no matter what silliness he advocates in real life, is a fine actor and a natural talent. Had he not been nominated for his Africa movie this year, he could have been nominated for The Departed. He was the safe bet for the lead in this movie and he doesn't disappoint. Although I am no fan of Hollywood "stars", I'll give credit where it is due. This guy can act.

Matt Damon, playing the second lead, satisfies my notion that he is the most overrated actor in Hollywood. He is passable in his roll as the dirty cop, but not memorable. His characterization of East Boston hood undercover in the State Police barracks is not particularly believable. As noted above, he can do the accent, but he gives the feel that he is more a BU accounting major than cold blooded killer in disguise.

Nicholson as the mob boss overplays his hand and comes off as a caricature of himself. Long past are the days of Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown. It may be too easy for Nicholson to play Nicholson these days. Alec Baldwin is fine as the police sergeant. He comes off as guy who would be fun to get drunk with. Martin Sheen as the police captain offers little.

The happy surprise of this movie is Vera Farmiga. She plays the emotionally accessible shrink who gets entangled in relationships with the lead characters who are undercover on opposite sides of a police/mob war. She and DiCaprio provide the most memorable scene of the movie in which the DiCaprio character picks her apart to score some good meds. It is a fine performance by both.

But there are things that just don't work in the movie. Worst of all is the notion that this is contemporary tale. The fact is that the Irish mob is long gone from Boston. Like the Italian mob in New York, it was wrecked by RICO, gentrification and, to no little extent, the end of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. The Departed is a story that should have been set in the 1970's. It is told in present day mostly, I suspect, so that the characters can use cell phones - a mechanism that helps speed up the story line. But it simply doesn't work.

At the end of the day, The Departed is worth the effort, but not much more. It won't be remembered as in the league of Scorsese greats, like Goodfellas or Raging Bull. It's not even as good as Casino. But if you are a New England kid, like a good shoot 'em up and can watch DiCaprio, Damon, Baldwin and Sheen without being reminded of their silly politics, have a go with it. Four bucks for the download isn't wasted.



3:00 PM

I thought Damon was excellent in the movie. He had a bad script to play with; no character development, no turns and twists, no emtion should be shown, absolutely one note character. Yet he did it well. His character was the weakest link in the movie. Yet he played it perfectly.


11:24 AM

Who better than Jake to spot a fake Boston accent, unless of course it is your sister...?