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.



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