The Departed: The Best Big Budget Hollywood Movie in Years
The Departed is a throwback to a different era, a time when major studios seemed capable of turning out big budget films reliant on skillful storytelling, masterful restrained direction and bravura acting performances, rather than dazzling FX and various forms of spectacle. The Departed is that all-too-rare mainstream masterpiece, perhaps not on par with 70's classics like Chinatown, Raging Bull, and The Godfather, but at the very least within spitting distance of its esteemed forebears. In The Departed, Martin Scorsese has produced his finest work since Goodfellas and a late period masterpiece that should nail down the Best Director Oscar that has eluded him for so long.
Despite this film's glowing reviews, I came into this movie expecting very litle. It's not that modern-day Hollywood is incapable of turning out decent fare, but these days most movies that hit higher artistic heights usually come from either independent production houses or art-house divisions of the big studios like Fox Searchlight and Warner Independent. At best, I was expecting a sleek and entertaining thriller on the level of Casino, probably Scorsese's last good film (though Gangs of New York isn't bad). But somehow, The Departed exceeded all my expectations and more.
I'm not going to run down the plot with you guys, as the film has already been favorably and capably reviewed by several bloggers, but in particular three things struck me as particularly masterful about the film. The first was the film's over-arching theme of identity. Without hitting you over the head with the obvious truth that realities are malleable, the film manages to weave this concept through all of its plot threads. The way in which Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan manage to do this is masterful and subtle and reminiscent of a good novel. Something all too rare in contemporary mainstream films. And it's no surprise that this film was adapted from the Hong Kong classic, Internal Affairs. Nor was it any surprise that Monahan originally intended to be a novelist. The Departed clearly has greater ambitions than to be just another crooked cops/mob flick, and it manages to fulfill these lofty goals admirably.
Matt Damon: Making Ben Affleck Jealous Since 1999
Secondly, the screenwriting of the film was absolutely outstanding. Replete with red herrings and labyrinth-like plot twists, The Departed is a film that easily could've been impossible to follow. Yet despite its heavy plot sophistication, the movie never rambles and sustains the viewer's attention. Additionally, the themes of corruption run deeper than your average cop gone bad film. One manages to root for both the protagonist and the antagonist simultaneously, one of the toughest tricks for any writer to do. In many regards, this film is the anti-Crash, a film that doesn't need to rely on flimsy character development or cheap emotional manipulation. Insteed, Monahan succesfully creates nuanced affecting characters that actually hold up to analysis and leave a lingering impression in your head. Furthermore, Monahan understands how to toy with the viewer and build tension until it reaches a white feverish pitch. With this script, Monahan has catapuluted himself into the ranks of one of Hollywood's finest writers and leaves one anxious to see what he'll take on next.
Third, Martin Scorsese proved once again why he's regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Not only is each shot beautifully framed, but Scorsese never lets a shot linger top long, instinctively knowing how to maximize each image to its fullest potential. In the city of Boston, Scorsese finds an ideal backdrop to let this tale of deception and corruption unfold. In many ways, the city itself serves as an additional character, as its alternately ancient and brand-new feel blends with the old world vs. new world realities that seem to clash in the film.
Additionally, Scorsese's use of music in the film is masterful. From the first eerie and twisted strains of "Gimme Shelter," to John Lennon's "Well, Well, Well," , to Nas' "Thief's Theme," Scorsese grounds each scene and establishes a clear-cut tone and feel.
All in all, the film is probably the best movie you'll see this year (though I won't begrudge anyone for choosing the brilliant Idiocracy, which I saw a second time this weekend). The acting is flawless. The script alternately brilliant and hysterical. The direction outstanding. Whether you have the highest or the lowest expectations won't matter, you'll enjoy this film. Trust me, it's damn near impossible not to.
Download from The Departed soundtrack:
The Rolling Stones: "Gimme Shelter" (left-click)
John Lennon: "Well, Well, Well" (left-click)