Saturday, October 14, 2006

Somebody Get These Guys Some Insurance!

Here's another short movie review. Went to see Scorsese's new picture, The Departed. The story, in overview, is one of dueling moles--two cops in similar, parallel undercover situations, each facing dire consequences if he's found out. Leonardo DiCaprio is a cop who infiltrates the local mob at the behest of his police superior--basically a good guy playing at being a gangster. Matt Damon plays a mobster who, with the help and tutelage of a local crime lord (played by Smilin' Jack Nicholson) is groomed to pursue a position with an elite organized crime police unit. What follows is an elaborate and virtuosic cat-and-mouse game that kept me guessing to the end.

There is a sense of the story's basic setup having the inevitability of a suspended heavy weight. Or maybe it's like an elaborate arrangement of edge-on dominoes where the outcome is more or less given and the suspense is in waiting to see exactly how things will fall out and who gets crushed when they do. But we get to watch two of our most talented young actors playing marionettes to the legendary Jack Nicholson's puppetmaster. What's not to like?

Oh, yeah, and Mark Wahlberg kicks ass.

I know I've said this before, but when Susan and I go to see movies she manages within the first 15 seconds to have the entire plot unfolding figured out, while I sit, wide-eyed, and everything comes as a surprise to me. So we react to movies differently. She didn't see the movie with me, but I feel the need to see it again, something she would certainly not need and would not like. I always watch movies I like repeatedly and concentrate on details, and this one seems to have its share of dark corners. Whether it plays well on repeated viewings remains to be seen, but for now the movie seems like one of those rare convergences of cast and story and director, something that comes out better than is guaranteed by its components--even when the components make quite the promise as these do. While I do tend to love cop / detective stories, I was skeptical that this one might be a bit too reliant on twists rather than on a solid story. But I needn't have worried. While there are a lot of twists, Scorsese manages them skilfully, and even I managed to keep my teeth in the story (mostly) as it ticked off. The cast all acquit themselves admirably--and what a cast: Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin--and the lone female role played by the (to me) unknown Vera Farmiga. And with so esteemed a director as Martin Scorsese in the driver's seat, I'm putting my money on repeated viewings not being a waste of time.

Letter grade to follow!


Update: The second viewing of any film always lets you concentrate less on plot points and more on how the movie is crafted and on production subtleties like lighting and music and so on. I went again last night with a couple of friends (who had not seen the picture) and did not find any of my initial impressions terribly strengthened or rebutted. My plodding brain still had to spend some time figuring out whether everything WORKED, and I'm not clear even yet. Things that were unclear to me in the general plotting the first time thru were not clearer this second time, and my companions were similarly up in the air about some things. But they both felt the movie gained for not having everything neatly tied up, and I agree that I usually rebel against the too-pat ending. It is an engaging story that keeps you from looking at your watch, though the movie is a long one.

Leonardo DiCaprio comes off to me as the headliner--I think he has matured into an indisputably great actor, and he is the real standout in this picture--particularly in his scenes with Vera Farmiga. And I was maybe a bit less taken with Jack Nicholson than I was initially; while he has an indisputable star quality about him, there's also a bit of a sense that his force of character makes every role JACK-PLAYING-X. It's not a detraction, but neither does it seem like such a feather in his cap.

Still, it seems a great feat of moviemaking, a triumph of storytelling over special effects (though by the end there's an almost Hamlet-like need of body bags). Compared to The Aviator or Gangs of New York, this seems much more like the weight rests on the actors and the script. And that's OK with me.

Grade: B+


woolf said...

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this movie, but a lot of what you say I can chime in and say yes. I was a bit on the confused and maybe a bit too confused side the first half of The Departed, but much more engaged the second half. One thing that really bugged me was all the music in the background. There were scenes switching around and each scene had some singer crooning his or her heart out, and the music was too loud to let you focus in on the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

you are a sexy creature and should spend more time at home

wunelle said...

I can't vouch for that first part, but I heartily agree with the second :-)