Saturday, 10 July 2010

"What's the matter, smartass, you don't know any fuckin' Shakespeare?"

You can’t help but feel self conscious about the movies you like sometimes, and with The Departed I’m not sure if it’s me being self conscious about liking the movie (because most everyone seems to like it) or if as someone who’s quite fond of Scorsese I’m either not as fond of (or not versed in) his older work – which all the “important” people agree is his best stuff. Thus, I always feel a little uncertain when I say that The Departed is my favourite Scorsese film. It’s a weird feeling. I’m simultaneously embarrassed because it seems like a peculiar choice and yet it seems generic. It’s odd because it’s new and everyone says new films can’t be classic, and it feels generic because those unversed in Scorsese often cite The Departed as his greatest because they don’t have patience for his earlier “meandering” (their words) narratives. I mean, I have seen the essentials ones (the boxing one, the gangster one, the Christian one and the New York one) but strangely it’s the Bostonian interpretation of a Chinese adaptation that has my allegiance. But why should I worry? The internet is the place for unfounded allegiances, no?
It’s no wonder I get psyched when people praise it effusively, Heather, of Movie Mobsters; the original gangster of them all (blogging wise and otherwise-wise) approves of it:
"The Departed brings us what I’d consider another piece of movie immortality. Scorsese is known for his affinity for the gangster genre, and not since his Goodfellas has one so remarkable been made. The score and soundtrack where characters of their own, while coupled with a cinematography that was gritty and abrasive with an expected edge. Every once in awhile you take a trip to the theatre and are lucky enough to have an actual experience. This was one of those rare occasions."
And, really, if the mob approves I must be on to something.
I feel as if I’ve already reviewed The Departed…even though all I did was write extensively on DiCaprio’s Costigan. It’s weird, with The Aviator I reviewed it once, twice, and then wrote even more – just for good measure. But with The Departed it’s the opposite, I’m strangely closemouthed about it*. In praising The Departed, Scorsese’s direction skill is as much on focus as Thelma Schoomaker’s excellent editing. The woman is really a credit to her trade and oddly her work is more excellent here even more than in The Aviator where it seems more necessary. The Departed is rooted in its aggressive schizophrenia of sorts and it’s crafted as such. The thing is, even as it goes about claiming that its intent is on the thin line between the good guys and the bad guys (and who the hell are the good guys?) The Departed completes it narratives touching on everything else – and often with even more alacrity than the professed main theme. Yet, I don’t feel as if it’s shirking the issue either. Is Madolyn’s question to Collin “If they don’t do their jobs (i.e. criminals) you don’t have one.” a serious sociological enquiry, or is it just ill placed dinner table banter? And the obvious cycle of violence is too noticeable to be incidental. Maybe I go easy on Scorsese, because I love him so; he does get a little gratuitous sometimes – but then, I end up wondering if I’m missing something. Is there a larger reason as to why Queenan’s death is so bloody? It’s the only time I’m angry at the film (okay fine, that and Costigan’s death – I can’t quit: I know) but I’m acutely aware that his death is necessary. It’s almost like Shakespeare’s penchant for killing the innocent first (Ophelia, Cordelia, Desdemona, Banquo) but Sheen’s so good I’m just annoyed he doesn’t get the chance to do more.
If there’s one thing that’s become a bit of a trademark with Scorsese, regardless of his story, it’s not so much the inherent violent tension in his films but it’s the tendency to leave questions unanswered. It’s the same when I think of my favourite Scorsese pic that doesn’t make it into the actual top 100 – New York / New York. Despite its ostensibly tedious length Marty is always a little reticent in making judgements on his characters. It’s a bit similar with the people we touch on here. Marty is so careful not to make Costigan an unfailing hero – other than DiCaprio’s Amsterdam (and perhaps, him too) he’s always intent on using troubled men as the catalyst for his drama. Billy is not quite as perverse as Travis he has just the touch of nuanced badness – which is one the same level with badassery. He’s just as psychologically conflicted as Newland, Henry and yes even Christ. Call it consistency, or call it unoriginality or blame it on Monahan and make DiCaprio culpable, but it’s a running thread I admire and one that transcends to the supporting characters as well, although with a little less…ummm, subtlety. The intuitive M. Carter from M. Carter at the Movies brings up such salient points in reminding why this is such a good film…
"In the Scorsese gangster canon, GoodFellas tends to reign supreme. And yet there’s another film he’s made that’s every bit as edgy, brutal and grimly funny as that de facto classic. With its talent-heavy, all-star cast (DiCaprio and Damon hold their own against Jack Nicholson), The Departed, Scorsese’s twisty Infernal Affairs remake, is an exhilarating mix of find-the-rat stunts, mind games, gang rivalries, dirty politics, storylines that bend back on themselves and two deaths so shocking they keep smarting days, even weeks, later. And because it’s Scorsese, everything is set perfectly to a soundtrack that funnels complex emotions into songs."
I’m glad I’m not the only one smarting at those two deaths, and kudos to Meredith for bringing up the music which is so often forgotten – and it’s not subtle, so I don’t know why…And, I know – dear God, I know – that The Departed doesn’t exactly thrive on any subtlety in particular, especially when anyone named Baldwin, Wahlberg or Nicholson is on screen but with so many characters to sort out we don’t have time for subtlety even if I still question the relevance of that hazy scene with Costello and the prostitutes… (I find the actual scene almost as funny as Monahan’s screenplay which reads “Costigan fucks…and fucks weird”. Okay then)…. But, still, amidst all its obvious weird obviousness I like how The Departed is dedicated to using every detail it brings up. Like the envelope for “citizins” turning up later, or even the simpler things like the cranberry juice quip – what, are you getting your period? I like how even French is in on the joke. It’s a lucidity (in the face of obvious lunacy) that’s a bit satisfying when you consider that besides Madolyn and Queenan every character is more than a little disturbed. And to be honest, who’s to say they’re not either? There is little that’s particularly hilarious about this gritty film, but Scorsese has such a talent for finding the humour in the strangest places. Sure, it derives from Monahan’s script but Scorsese milks it just right without going overboard. It’s like that scene where Billy shoots the guy in the knee and he starts screaming, “I thought I was supposed to go into shock. I’m not in shock. It fucking hurts. It fucking hurts.” Excise that scene and you could put it in any offbeat violent comedy. The Departed isn’t willing to fall into the boundaries of what it should be, Monahan’s too atypical for that and Scorsese too wise, and thus when I hear it referred to as a crime drama, I’m not too sure that that’s the subgenre it would fall into.
Maybe I do feel the slightest bit of dissonance when I say it’s my favourite Scorsese, but ultimately I’m not really that bothered. Especially when the refreshingly honest Darren from The M0vie Blog has this to say:
"I'll provoke the ire of Scorsese fans for saying this - but I think this can stand tall and be counted amongst the best of his impressive filmography. I'm also very pleased with Shutter Island, though, so what do I know? At once a return to the mean streets that defined the early part of his career and yet strangely a more stylised film, this is the movie I watch once a year with my girlfriend. The first time we watched it, she had missed it in the cinema, so I booked a large room on campus, a projector, some popcorn buckets and drinks holders from a cinema, and surprised her for Valentines Day with a screening. Casino Royale may have been the film we saw on our first date, but I think The Departed will always be "our" film."
Although I’m a little dubious of Darren’s choice of it as a film to gain the title of a couple’s film (really Darren, isn’t that just a little umm, sadist?) his words do make my thoughts a little less "dissonant"... All his films aren’t made equal, but Oscar or no Oscar The Departed is good one from Marty.
We’re getting closer to the top, The Departed is #7. How does it stack up against Scorsese's other works for you? How much do you like it either way?
*I guess I wasn’t as closemouthed as I thought I would be; this turned into quite a ramble – it’s the longest of the reviews yet.


Darren said...

I see what you're thinking - it is certainly a bit sadistic - but I'm not sure you can "pick" what films happen to be important to you (I certainly wouldn't have picked Casino Royale as a first date movie, for example, but it worked out that way). Some films just happen to be important just because - maybe they were the first film we remember, or speak to a particular time in our lives. Like I'll always associate trashy horror films with my grandfather, despite the fact there are certainly better films out there I watched with him. I don't know.

Maybe I'm selling The Departed short. Sometimes a great film is just a great film - and The Departed is just a great film.

Heather said...

My favorite part is the scene with Vera and DiCaprio and Comfortably Numb in the back round. The build up to that moment. Then together in the kitchen is all perfection.

Meredith said this is just as good as Goodfellas, and I'm might be partial to one over the other, but it's an atrocity to say that this film won an Oscar because of Scorsese's body of work instead of this film in particular. It stands on it's own, and is one that will be remembered forever.

Great write up Andrew. Your affection seethes through your words, and the genuine appreciation for this film is tangible.

Simon said...

My favorite scene is the last...while, depending on who you ask, it either undermines or confirms the cynicism throughout the film, it's just such a kick in the balls, I kind of loved it.

Excellent write-up.

TomS said...

Scorsese is providing a real service to film-lovers all over the world and across generations by preserving classic films and imparting his scholarly knowledge of the art of film.

So I have to ask myself: years from now, which of Scorsese's films will be studied for their artistry? I will alienate some fans here and suggest it won't be "The Departed" (I am of the opinion that he would have won the Oscar for directing the phone book that year).

I am also not one of the biggest fans of "Raging Bull".

For sheer visceral artistry and compelling film-viewing, it is hard to beat "Taxi Driver";

And "Goodfellas", speeding across the screen breathlessly like a runaway train, is a masterpiece of structure, characterization, photography, music and editing.

And if any of you have not seen---and fallen in love with--- "Mean Streets", you are missing what it was that made fans like me love Scorsese in the first place. This is essential, prototypical Scorsese...a film from his heart, without commercialization.

And no one....especially not DiCaprio--will ever match the power of DeNiro. He and Scorsese: that was a team for the ages.

For what it's worth.....

Jose said...

Vera is perfect in this.
I liked the movie when I saw it but I've never really seen it since.

Luke said...

Ha! Brilliant choice for the title teaser. Is it wrong to think that Mark Wahlberg was so fun in this movie? I know we're supposed to think he's a hack because of the whole Marky Mark thing, but... it's tough with this one.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

darren i heard you. it seems to be an odd, but naturally, we cannot "choose".

heather "you don't have cats. i like that." so nice. i do love it, and i wish it had won in a stronger year to see if it would have won (and perhaps, curbs the naysayer). either way, i love it.

simon confirms the cynicism, definitely.

tom i don't know about dicpario matching deniro, the former is only in his mid thirties so there's obviously a long way to go. i'm not very of deniro's acting - except for when he pairs with marty even in films i love (see the deer hunter) he doesn't particularly move me. i hate to see marty remebered more for his "pairings" than his "films". not being my absolute favourite i wonder if it won't be the age of innocence remembered because of it's scope.

jose oh, very as IS perfect. more so because she takes a small role and makes it brilliant. (did you know that kate winslet was in talks to play the role? i'm still trying to wrap my head around that idea.)

luke oh wahlberg was fun, how can i deny that. everyone was on point even the loathsome anthony anderson.

Nicholas Prigge said...

"The Departed isn’t willing to fall into the boundaries of what it should be." That line seems to say it all. What struck me the most is that this movie is so damn funny. Damon and Farmiga's first date is hilarious. You can't get stuff that good in the best rom coms. Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin's performances are some kind of abstract comedic genius.

And I agree with TomS, "Mean Streets" - while maybe not technically his "best" - is the Scorsese movie to see.

Kaiderman said...

Great thing about Departed is that it remains very faithful while managing to change just enough to have it's own identity which is fully realized through Scorcese signature vision of the film.
BTW, not sure Infernal is Chinese... pretty sure it's Korean but don't quote me on that!

Fitz said...

I thought I was alone in my feeling that The Departed was my favorite Scorsese work. Turns out there's more than I thought.

Then again I love all of his movies from the past decade & Shutter Island.