Thursday, February 22, 2007

Zoo (Devor, 2007)

Strangely enough, Robinson Devor’s Zoo, a documentary that tackles the subject of a small group of people devoted to amorous interactions with horses, is not a bad movie for the reasons you might think. It is bad for reasons that are utterly banal. It is unfocused, poorly edited, meandering, tentative and tonally inconsistent. Understandably, Devor met considerable resistance when attempting to find people willing to talk on camera about their roles in a barnyard sex party that left one man dead. Unfortunately, his solution to that problem does not make for viewing that is compelling, or particularly instructive.

Using various audio interviews, Devor uses a mix of actors and real subjects to stage recreations of the events leading up to the night in question. Participants leave their homes and travel by planes, trains and automobiles to Enumclaw, Washington, invariably looking wistfully out the window as if pondering some great existential truth that is beyond our comprehension. The things we learn about these men are not surprising: they hooked up through the internet, they have family and friends who love them, they feel persecuted by anti-bestiality laws, they believe that they are animal lovers (not harmers) and that their partners are willing participants.

When they arrive at the house that serves as a meeting place, they make some mixed drinks to set the mood, as Devor shoots them in dark shadows in order to emphasize the underground nature of their activities (as if this was necessary). Since the voices of the participants is essentially all we hear and never in synchronicity with their image, the overall effect is that we are largely unable to distinguish this documentary from a straight-faced put-on. Devor’s intent seems to be to find the humanity in a group of people who have received only ridicule; however, Zoo brings us no closer to understanding this phenomenon or the people involved. There are no insights offered from psychologists or other authorities who might have been able to help us provide some context, nor do the filmmakers themselves venture into the discussion with any sort of explicitly expressed opinion.

However, Devor does find the time to have one of his actors (the man playing the tiny role of Cop #1) tell a long, barely related story about how he was with a young girl when she died and had the opportunity to look death in the face. Presumably this digression is to remind us that the man who died left behind people who loved him even if he engaged in bizarre sexual behavior and that we should have some compassion for his fate. Why Devor felt that his audience might need this particular reminder is unclear. As it stands, the scene feels suspiciously like a filmmaker padding his runtime to ensure he reaches feature length.

In the end, Zoo fails miserably not because of its subject, but because of its execution. Watching it, I found that I really did want to understand and have some insight into this predilection that seems so appalling to me. What needs does it fulfill? Where does the desire start? How has the taboo been handled throughout history by various cultures? Unfortunately, Devor has not accumulated enough information and has grafted what information he does have to recreations that seem inspired by equal parts Unsolved Mysteries and Emmanuelle. Tedious, clumsy and amateurish, Zoo is wholly unprovocative.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

20 Favorite Films of the 20's (Updated)

1. Metropolis (Lang)
2. Seven Chances (Keaton)
3. The General (Bruckman/Keaton)
4. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel)
5. The Last Laugh (Murnau)
6. Sunrise (Murnau)
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
8. The Fall of the House of Usher (Epstein)
9. Nosferatu (Murnau)
10. Neighbors (Cline/Keaton)
11. Our Hospitality (Blystone/Keaton)
12. Faust (Murnau)
13. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Reisner)
14. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
15. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)
16. The Man Who Laughs (Leni)
17. Cops (Cline/Keaton)
18. The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh)
19. College (Horne)
20. The Balloonatic (Cline/Keaton)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

20 Favorite Films of the 30's (Updated)

1. M (Lang)
2. Tabu (Murnau)
3. The Grand Illusion (Renoir)
4. Vampyr (Dreyer)
5. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
6. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Lang)
7. Wuthering Heights (Wyler)
8. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)
9. L’age d’or (Bunuel)
10. The Blood of a Poet (Cocteau)
11. The Thin Man (Van Dyke)
12. City Lights (Chaplin)
13. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
14. Sabotage (Hitchcock)
15. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
16. Land Without Bread (Bunuel)
17. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz/Keighley)
18. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (LeRoy)
19. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (various)
20. Bride of Frankenstein (Whale)

20 Favorite Films of the 40's (Updated)

1. The Bicycle Thief (De Sica)
2. Hangmen Also Die (Lang)
3. The Lady Eve (Sturges)
4. Notorious (Hitchcock)
5. Meshes of the Afternoon (Deren/Hammid)
6. Children of Paradise (Carne)
7. Stray Dog (Kurosawa)
8. Casablanca (Curtiz)
9. Great Expectations (Lean)
10. Citizen Kane (Welles)
11. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston)
12. Day of Wrath (Dreyer)
13. Peter and the Wolf (Geronimi)
14. His Girl Friday (Hawks)
15. My Darling Clementine (Ford)
16. The Grapes of Wrath (Ford)
17. Hamlet (Olivier)
18. Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)
19. Brief Encounter (Lean)
20. Lifeboat (Hitchcock)

20 Favorite Films of the 50's (Updated)

1. Los Olvidados (Bunuel)
2. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder)
3. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
4. Ikiru (Kurosawa)
5. The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa)
6. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
7. Umberto D (De Sica)
8. I Live in Fear (Kurosawa)
9. The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
10. All About Eve (Mankiewicz)
11. El (Bunuel)
12. Wild Strawberries (Bergman)
13. Throne of Blood (Kurosawa)
14. The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
15. What’s Opera, Doc? (Jones)
16. Animal Farm (Batchelor/Halas)
17. Ballad of a Soldier (Chukhrai)
18. 12 Angry Men (Lumet)
19. Paths of Glory (Kubrick)
20. The Cranes Are Flying (Kalatozishvili)

25 Favorite Films of the 60's (Updated)

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
2. Winter Light (Bergman)
3. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick)
4. The Virgin Spring (Bergman)
5. The War Game (Watkins)
6. Onibaba (Shindo)
7. The Firemen’s Ball (Forman)
8. Marat/Sade (Brook)
9. The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo)
10. Satyricon (Fellini)
11. Simon of the Desert (Bunuel)
12. I am Curious – Yellow (Sjoman)
13. Hour of the Wolf (Bergman)
14. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Jones/Washam)
15. Witches’ Hammer (Vavra)
16. The Shop on Main Street (Kadar/Klos)
17. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols)
18. Viridiana (Bunuel)
19. The Loves of a Blonde (Forman)
20. The Graduate (Nichols)
21. Repulsion (Polanski)
22. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)
23. Persona (Bergman)
24. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Enrico)
25. Lord of the Flies (Brook)

25 Favorite Films of the 70's (Updated)

1. Walkabout (Roeg)
2. Life of Brian (Jones)
3. The Holy Mountain (Jodorowsky)
4. Eraserhead (Lynch)
5. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Herzog)
6. Grey Gardens (Hovde/Maysles/Maysles/Meyer)
7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam/Jones)
8. Punishment Park (Watkins)
9. A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick)
10. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jires)
11. All That Jazz (Fosse)
12. Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet)
13. The Phantom of Liberty (Bunuel)
14. Cries and Whispers (Bergman)
15. That Obscure Object of Desire (Bunuel)
16. Scenes from a Marriage (Bergman)
17. The Godfather (Coppola)
18. Stroszek (Herzog)
19. Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder)
20. The Lorax (Pratt)
21. Cabaret (Fosse)
22. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder)
23. Halloween (Carpenter)
24. The Merchant of Four Seasons (Fassbinder)
25. Star Wars (Lucas)

25 Favorite Films of the 80's (Updated)

1. Amadeus (Forman)
2. The Vanishing (Sluizer)
3. A Zed and Two Noughts (Greenaway)
4. This Is Spinal Tap (Reiner)
5. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Greenaway)
6. Raising Arizona (Coen)
7. Ran (Kurosawa)
8. The Elephant Man (Lynch)
9. Brazil (Gilliam)
10. Blue Velvet (Lynch)
11. The Atomic Cafe (Loader/Rafferty/Rafferty)
12. Poltergeist (Hooper)
13. Henry V (Branagh)
14. Death in the Seine (Greenaway)
15. The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese)
16. Drowning By Numbers (Greenaway)
17. Santa sangre (Jodorowsky)
18. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg)
19. The Secret of NIMH (Bluth)
20. Prick Up Your Ears (Frears)
21. Time Bandits (Gilliam)
22. Do the Right Thing (Lee)
23. Zelig (Allen)
24. The Brave Little Toaster (Rees)
25. Betty Blue (Beineix)

25 Favorite Films of the 90's (Updated)

1. Breaking the Waves (Trier)
2. The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan)
3. Muriel’s Wedding (Hogan)
4. Heavenly Creatures (Jackson)
5. Boys Don’t Cry (Peirce)
6. Prospero’s Books (Greenaway)
7. Fargo (Coen)
8. Kirikou and the Sorceress (Ocelot)
9. The Celebration (Vinterberg)
10. Orlando (Potter)
11. Run Lola Run (Tykwer)
12. Baseball (Burns)
13. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang)
14. The Kingdom (Trier)
15. Fucking Amal (Moodysson)
16. In the Company of Men (Labute)
17. Bob Roberts (Robbins)
18. The Piano (Campion)
19. 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (Haneke)
20. The Wrong Trousers (Park)
21. Quiz Show (Redford)
22. Funny Games (Haneke)
23. Edward II (Jarman)
24. The Pillow Book (Greenaway)
25. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz)

Monday, February 19, 2007

25 Favorite Films of the 2000's (Updated)

1. Dogville (Trier)
2. Mulholland Dr. (Lynch)
3. Dancer in the Dark (Trier)
4. Inland Empire (Lynch)
5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Mitchell)
6. Y tu mama tambien (Cuaron)
7. Me and You and Everyone We Know (July)
8. City of God (Meirelles/Lund)
9. Manderlay (Trier)
10. The Piano Teacher (Haneke)
11. The Isle (Kim)
12. Together (Moodysson)
13. Fat Girl (Breillat)
14. Palindromes (Solondz)
15. Shaun of the Dead (Wright)
16. The Heart of the World (Maddin)
17. May (McKee)
18. The Weather Underground (Green/Siegel)
19. Cowards Bend the Knee (Maddin)
20. Babel (Inarritu)
21. Talk to Her (Almodovar)
22. Grizzly Man (Herzog)
23. The Deep End (McGehee/Siegel)
24. Cache (Haneke)
25. The Five Obstructions (Leth/Trier)

Jindabyne (Lawrence, 2006)

Four men in a small Australian town set out on an annual fishing trip. They arrive in a beautiful, peaceful location far out in the wilderness. “No women allowed,” says one, reinforcing the idea that the spot is, for them, a kind of sanctuary. This tranquility is quickly interrupted when they discover a dead body floating in the river. With the actions they take next, the four men set themselves up to be pariahs in their own community and change the way that their loved ones view and understand them.

Working from a short story by Raymond Carver (whose work also served as the basis for Robert Altman’s Short Cuts), director Ray Lawrence has assembled a quality cast (including Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne) to tell his grief-soaked morality tale. Upon returning home, the men find that most of their fellow citizens are appalled that they continued to fish on through the weekend rather than report the body immediately. Because the victim is a young girl with dark skin and the fishing group’s leader, Stewart, is an Irish immigrant, tensions explode as the victim’s family accuses the men of not just negligence, but racism.

The disconnect that Stewart feels from the Australian community is further complicated by the way that his Catholicism conflicts with the beliefs held by many of the locals. Stewart’s contention is straightforward: the girl was dead and beyond help. Under those circumstances, what is the difference between Friday and Sunday? In fact, we do see Stewart deeply saddened upon discovering the body and therefore do not think him to be simply emotionally callous. However, many believe that the location in the wilderness near where the men were fishing is a path for spirits to travel on their way to … wherever … and thus Stewart’s actions have caused some kind of supernatural interruption.

What’s good about Lawrence’s film is the way it examines how we can be insensitive to the tragedies of others, particularly when it threatens to interrupt those things that we find pleasurable. Sorrow, it is suggested, is simply not enough unless it leads to action. Unfortunately, the film’s captivating middle section is bookended by tedious exposition and a third act bogged down by dopey spirituality and empty histrionics. Basically, it’s yet another film playing at ‘secrets and lies’, with an inciting incident opening up old wounds and long-held prejudices. Fans of Linney and Byrne may want to check it out to see the two trading vicious barbs; but chances are, you’ve seen this kind of thing before and you’ve seen it done better. Jindabyne’s only exceptional quality is a haunting score that relies heavily on human wailing. Beyond that, your experience with the film will largely depend upon your tolerance for touchy-feely ideas about the afterlife and overblown scenes of familial nastiness.


A Comedy of Power (Chabrol, 2006)

Claude Chabrol’s A Comedy of Power is perhaps the worst kind of bad movie. There are films that are woefully incompetent, films that are utterly laughable and yet beyond the surface you can usually see that someone cared deeply about the project. A Comedy of Power is not that kind of film. Although it contains solid acting and production values, A Comedy of Power is a film that is impossible to imagine anyone involved feeling passionately about. At least when Baz Luhrmann or Mel Gibson embarrass themselves with their latest myopic vision, you can tell that they poured their hearts into the project. By contrast, Chabrol’s film is utterly devoid of ambition, personal style, artistry, and, despite what the title promises, comedy. Most astonishing of all, Chabrol has managed to turn out this turkey with none other than Isabelle Huppert playing his lead. Huppert is Jeanne Charmant-Killman (Get it? Kill Man!), a high-powered prosecutor who is examining generic greedy businessmen who run a generic company and have been accused of generic corporate crimes. When these men get together, you can just tell they have it coming because they’re always smoking cigars. And they’re so smug about it too.

Huppert’s character is nicknamed ‘The Piranha’, presumably due to her ferocity, tenacity and tiny size. If, like me, you are drawn to the film thinking that the idea of Huppert engaged in a high stakes power struggle, spewing acid and taking names, is your idea of a fun time at the movies, be warned. From start to finish, Chabrol’s characters are exactly what they appear to be on the surface. There is no joy in watching Huppert nail the naughty executives because they never pose much of a threat. Huppert is so utterly composed and under control in every situation that it is hard to imagine that she has even broken a sweat. As for the supposed comedy, Chabrol’s script misses even the most obvious of jokes. For example, on a raid of a corporate office, Jeanne seizes an executive’s computer. Initially, he vehemently protests. Later, he claims that the only thing he uses the computer for is to calculate his golf handicap. Jeanne’s response: “How is it?” If Jeanne had made some remark noting that he must be extremely embarrassed about his score if he wanted so desperately to keep it secret, then Chabrol might have elicited some laughter.

Such laughs, unfortunately, are not to be found. Nor is any sort of insight or dramatic tension. Chabrol never earns our investment because he never offers his protagonist a worthy challenge. Instead we get a series of events that is like a shadow version of what might have been an actual film: empty, soulless, insignificant.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (Watkins, 1959)

Apart from two pieces of disowned juvenilia, The Diary of an Unknown Soldier is Watkins' first film. Just under twenty minutes in length, it is a sometimes captivating, sometimes strident effort that is worth watching in order to see a critical aspect of Watkins' later films beginning to emerge. Whereas many films present war to us as faceless mobs clashing against each other, Watkins is deeply concerned with the place of the individual within the violence. Other films have made efforts to humanize the soldier. What perhaps sets Watkins apart is that his characters are not particularly charismatic, powerful or interesting. They are the people who would be among the war statistics released after a particularly deadly battle. If a news report said '23 British Soldiers Killed', the protagonist of this particular short film might very well be #16. However, Watkins takes us inside his mind and relays the fears that soldiers cannot normally express openly. He asks us to consider the ordinary man who pays the violent price for decisions made by those in command - the ones that are normally the central characters in war films. The film ends before the soldier goes to battle; but, through his daydreams, we see the outcome that he imagines as he considers the possibility of his fast-approaching death. The film has nifty composition and editing, signaling the growth of an emerging talent. Unfortunately, it also has poor sound quality with stock effects and a voice-over that pushes far too hard for emotional impact, instead becoming off-putting. Nonetheless, those who want to know more about the artistic development of the man behind Punishment Park and The War Game will definitely want to check it out.


Bothersome Man (Lien, 2006) and Fido (Currie, 2006)

Often it can be enlightening to see two seemingly unrelated films back-to-back because unexpected similarities will emerge, revealing common ideas that are on different artists’ minds, although they are eventually expressed in two different ways. Such was the case yesterday when I took in the dark Norwegian comedy, Bothersome Man, followed by the Canadian zombie film, Fido. In both films, the protagonist is caught in a community where he seems to be the only one who is capable of feeling healthy human emotion.

In Bothersome Man, Andreas finds himself on a bus, traveling by himself to a remote city where he is greeted by a very modest welcoming committee and then ushered off to a new job and apartment that have been pre-arranged for him. Although he has no recollection of how he came to board the bus, all initially seems well. The co-workers are all friendly and it does not take him long to find not one but two beautiful lovers. However, Andreas soon finds that virtually everything about the town is utterly vanilla. Food lacks flavor. Alcohol lacks potency. Sex lacks passion. When Andreas expresses even the slightest displeasure, he is regarded warily. Bothersome Man is at its best when it is laying out the universe into which Andreas has stumbled … or perhaps been birthed. Predictably, Andreas struggles to resist his environment and eventually to escape. His efforts lead to a final shot that is appropriately vague, but lacking in deep metaphorical power. As an audience, we don’t necessarily require more answers; however, we are left with the impression that the filmmakers are throwing up their hands and giving up on how the film should be resolved. Still, there is plenty along the way to make the film worth seeing – enough twists to a somewhat familiar formula to keep us intrigued – with the film’s highlight possibly being one of the most ill-conceived suicide attempts ever committed to film.

In Fido, the protagonist is a young boy named Timmy - his name taken from the TV series Lassie. Fido’s innovation is to merge two separate subgenres into one – the zombie comedy and the 1950’s satire. The result is delicious and surprisingly mainstream in its appeal. We are introduced to the world of the film through a black-and-white instructional film being shown in Timmy’s classroom. (Have we seen this done before? Yes. Is it still funny? Yes.) Instead of a nuclear threat, we learn that radiation has caused the dead to come back to life as zombies. Consequently, old people are feared and people save up for funerals that will ensure that their heads and bodies are buried separately. Fortunately though, an inventor has created a collar which allows zombies to be domesticated and perform various household chores. When we first see Timmy, he is ridiculed in class for asking an expert whether zombies are dead or alive; however, it is this question that is critical to the way the film unfolds. Timmy begins to discover that his family’s zombie, Fido, is capable of far more human emotion than he could ever have expected. Thus, the film touches upon a little bit of political subtext in that these middle class families are benefiting from the labor of a dehumanized workforce. Eventually though, the subtext becomes less important than the comedy. Carrie-Anne Moss is particular is fantastic in role of a typical domestic homemaker who discovers that Fido fulfills needs that her husband can’t – though not necessarily the ones you may be thinking of. Moss proves to be an extraordinary comedic actress, displaying a gear that she was not allowed to access in either Memento or The Matrix. Billy Connelly, Dylan Baker and Tim Blake Nelson round out an excellent cast. Although it won’t make anyone forget Shaun of the Dead and it may displease those who feel the gore is too soft or the humor too precious, Fido is a consistently funny film with just enough social commentary to keep the film from feeling utterly frivolous. Be warned: this is the type of film that reviewers love to review by spoiling four or five of the film’s best jokes. I have consciously attempted to avoid this. Others may not be so kind.

Taken together, the two films seem to reveal a deep concern with the way society continues to barrel ahead in a state of functional insanity. Both films pit society versus the spirit of a sensitive individual who struggles to inject a little compassion into his surrounding. Andreas and Timmy achieve different results, but both experience conflict that is worthy of consideration in our war-torn world.

Bothersome Man ***
Fido ***1/2

Friday, February 02, 2007

Little Children (Field, 2006)

After the hugely enthusiastic response to his directorial debut, In the Bedroom, a gripping and emotional drama about a family torn apart by tragedy, director Todd Field has made a surprising left turn and delivered Little Children, which (despite what the Golden Globes and the Internet Movie Database would have you believe) is a rather extraordinary comedy. If, like me, you go into Little Children expecting another harrowing, naturalistic drama, there will be a rather significant adjustment you will need to make early on in the film as Field lays out a new set of conventions. However, once Field’s offbeat tone is established, Little Children becomes a darkly humorous and thoroughly involving take on suburban dissatisfaction and hypocrisy.

The central characters of Little Children, played by Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, are young parents living at an age where the idea of settling down seems not only daunting, but somehow incompatible with one’s sense of self. Although they have reached the typical age to begin the process of rearing children, they retain a personal vision of themselves that is trapped in young adulthood. Having now lived long enough to see the passing of a generation, they are reluctant to assume the role of their parents. Consequently, they find themselves engaged in an affair not so much because they are a great match, but because each is experiencing a kind of internal rebellion against a path that is largely pre-determined.

The most jarring aspect of the style Field employs for Little Children is the narration - pitched somewhere between Robert Stack and Rod Serling - that fills in the specifics of certain characters’ thought processes. Field’s narrator is undoubtedly intrusive and speaks with a gravity that initially seems mismatched with the light comedic tone of the film’s early scenes. Devotees of Robert McKee will likely fume audibly in their theater seats; however, the interruptions Field creates serve a very important function. They provide a baseline from which we can judge the two adulterers' distance from their normal, everyday lives. With his film, Field is able to accurately communicate the sensation of being caught up in the magic of physical attraction. However, the voiceovers prevent the affair from taking on the kind of romanticism that is prevalent in so many other films. Because of the voiceovers, we consider the reasons why these two have drifted and are reminded of the bubble that must inevitably burst.

Complicating matters is the presence in the narrative of a convicted sex offender named Ronnie played by Jackie Earle Haley. Both vile and pathetic, Ronnie could easily have walked in from a Todd Solondz film. Indeed, one of the film’s most troubling scenes features Ronnie out on a blind date with a character played by Jane Adams of Happiness. Convinced that her son needs to have a girlfriend in order to direct his compulsive sexual urges, Ronnie’s mother is instrumental in convincing him to place a personal ad. The result of the date lands squarely in that uncomfortable Solondz range where we are both appalled and amused. In addition to his role in the film’s startling conclusion, Ronnie serves as a provocative parallel to our two adulterers. Although Ronnie receives abuse in the community because of the threat he presumably poses to the neighborhood children, we are left to wonder about the potential emotional damage that is being wrought by two loving parents.

Little Children covers territory that has been covered many times before, perhaps most famously in American Beauty; however, in doing so, it uncovers new insights and observations that are well worth the journey. It establishes a personality all its own and handles difficult subject matter while being neither too dreary nor too flippant. In the end, as fantasy begins to dissipate, the little children of the film’s title are a reminder why most of eventually let go of a cherished era of our lives and proceed forward as best we can. We do it because, despite our everlasting quest for personal fulfillment, they need our love. We do it because we hope that they will never experience a pain as deep as Ronnie’s.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)

Alternately entertaining and tedious, engrossing and pointless, The Departed is a film that is so in love with its own conceit that it continues to circle around itself providing meaningless twists long after the viewer has fully absorbed the utterly simple idea at its core: there is a fine line between good and evil, cop and gangster, angel and devil, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Watching a great director like Scorsese tackle this material is a bit like watching a fourteen-year-old trick-or-treat on Halloween. We can tell that they are having fun, but we can’t help thinking that perhaps their time might be better spent on something better suited to their level of maturity.

This is not to say that there isn’t fun to be had with this tale of undercover cop vs. mobster plant. What I mean to say is that Scorsese’s presence is not entirely helpful. His scope, his technical precision and his bombast make a promise that is never fulfilled: that somewhere at the end of this noise, there will arise a purpose beyond that which could be easily gleaned from the film’s promotional trailer. But alas, the bloody finale reveals the entire exercise to be precisely as shallow as it appears.

Yes, there are nifty moments of tension and some quality performances; but this, I suspect, is a film that will give ammunition to Scorsese’s detractors who suggest that he employs violence for thrills and not for the purpose of critique. How, after all, can we defend the crescendo of music that accompanies Leonardo DiCaprio’s character bludgeoning two men in a convenience store? This, and many other instances of violence in The Departed work in the moment because they are surprising and neatly staged. However, after each character is brutally dispatched, we realize just how little they meant. We may as well be watching Wile E. Coyote have dynamite explode in his face. The pawns in The Departed are no less cartoonish.

I cannot take issue with those who might find the film to be a fun time at the movies. Gangster tales are not typically my thing; but I can certainly see how those of certain tastes might enjoy the hammy acting and well-staged violence. However, I would be in disagreement with those who suggested that this project represents a worthy use of Scorsese’s talents. Typically a meticulous researcher and unconventional philosopher, Scorsese has given us a film that is only slightly more insightful than a decent episode of The Sopranos.