Sunday, March 18, 2007

Departed Affairs. I demand a recount!

So, I am, as always, a bit behind on this one. I finally saw "The Departed" last night. I don't know why it took me so long to see it, other than I kept finding better things to do. I think what really kept me away was my disdain for Warner Brothers in their efforts to shroud the fact that Martin Scorsese made a REMAKE of a Hong Kong action film. As we've all heard by now, "The Departed" is a remake of "Infernal Affairs", a rather popular HK crime potboiler. I've seen "Infernal Affairs" and I believe it's one of the best cops and robbers movies out there, right along side "Hard Boiled", which, for my money, may be the best one.

So, I sit down to watch "The Departed". In a nutshell, Martin Scorsese and company has managed to take an incredibly taut and fast paced 100 minute movie, throw it up in the air and cram it all into a long, rather uninvolving, 150 minute movie. That's right. he expanded (I'm sure he would say, "Improved") the film by ten minutes short of an hour with absolutely nothing to show for it.

So the basic plot is as follows (and I'm talkin' VERY basic; I don't want to get too long winded about this): A crime boss gets one of his gang into the police academy to act as a mole (in "the Departed", a rat. A word uttered so many times I was actually looking for James Cagney's corpse to be rolled out at any second) while the police get one of their own into the crime family to act as same. If you're an action film fan, that one sentence alone should have brought your heart racing. It's a good solid scenario, if you don't let too many facts get in the way. Co Directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak knew this and cut away as much fat as possible for "Infernal Affairs". In that film, the filmmakers were respectful of the audience enough to let us fill in the inconsequential blanks ourselves. There is a way of thinking that dictates, "Anything not shown or explained in a film just doesn't exist" and that, I believe, is a load of horse shit. Of course, 'Ol Marty Scorsese believes that dictate and pummels us with scene after scene of exposition. It's like he's trying to make another "Goodfellas". The narration is there (in lieu of letting the movie play out and giving the viewer some credit), the musical soundtrack of endless Classic Rock and Oldies is in place (in lieu of an actual proper musical score; Jesus, did he just leave the radio on during editing?) and annoying as ever and the language is just as foul as ever; racist and bludgeoning to an extreme. In fact, that's a major, major problem when comparing the two films. "Infernal Affairs' " dialogue is very concise and to the point; there's no room for pointless filler. "The Departed" is so leisurely, lazy and is more concerned with some foul mouthed crack against another character in place of an actual witty line or plot motivating dialogue.

Speech is another thing. It's set in Boston and deals with the Irish, so we're barraged with bad Bostonian and Irish accents from the cast. I believe I could have eased into the movie a bit easier had I not been constantly pulled out of it because of jarringly bad accents.

As for the cast, let me get this off my chest right friggin' now. I want everyone to sign a petition stating that Jack Nicholson be BARRED from ever acting again. How many movies does he have to ruin before he retires or dies? I mean, it really is a big problem. If you're going to be in a movie, at least try to play a character. No one is ever going to watch "The Departed" and say to themselves, "Wow, Jack Nicholson really buried himself into that role." It's not going to happen. I'm sure he's fun and fun to be around, but he was way out of place in this movie. It was like watching him play The Joker all over again.

I'm really sick of seeing crime bosses played as loony eccentrics that joke themselves through their lives until something triggers them into being a stone faced, cold blooded killer. Then, after the pressure is off, they go back to being that lovable mob boss guy. It's sickening, it's one note, it has to stop.

DiCaprio was all right, I suppose, as was Mark Whalberg (though the running gag that he's brutally foul mouthed and has to be apologized for is just not funny or needed). They were passable in their roles. I can't say the same for Matt Damon. His character is supposed to have an arc. He's bad and becomes good. That's how the character was written in the original film. Damon can't possibly handle that level of acting, so he just snowplows through the movie as the Bad Guy. He seems to have no other motive. "I'm Bad!", That's it. Vera Farmiga's role was the most problematic. Her character was an amalgamation of THREE different characters in "Infernal Affairs": The Shrink to the undercover cop, The girlfriend to the gang member turned cop, and the ex girlfriend of the undercover cop who has a child that may or may not be his. The melding of these characters was a huge mistake. It places a limp love triangle in a movie that doesn't need one. Farmiga is very good in her role, but the role is ultimately throwaway.

The plot itself is more or less completely intact, although the subplot about black market microchips is unnecessary and is left pretty much unresolved. Some things in the original film, like the ingenious use of Morse Code, are completely disregarded while others are simply moved about and rendered pointless in the process (the whole cast breaking scene).

I believe that Martin Scorsese is completely out of touch as a filmmaker and, now that he has his precious statuette, should bow out gracefully and rest on his laurels. I really don't know when the academy has awarded a less deserving film than "The Departed", though last years "Crash" left me scratching my head, also. At any rate, if you want to see what the movie was supposed to be like, rent "Infernal Affairs". Chances are, if you've seen "The Departed", you'll strongly disagree with me. If you do, that's perfectly okay since most people tend to like the film they've seen first over the one they've seen second. I guess it has something to do with knowing what's coming. Who knows.

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