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Mar 15, 2012
Martin Scorsese has had quite a career. He gave us Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and many more. Many of them were even nominated for best picture. But until this week Scorsese had always been beaten out for best director and his films had always been beaten out for best pictures. But at quarter after nine Pacific on the evening of February 25, 2007, The Departed changed all that.
As the movie begins we see a mob boss named Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, helping a young boy buy groceries. The young boy grows up to be Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon. Sullivan trains to be a trooper in the Massachusetts State Police, but as soon as he graduates from the academy, Frank meets him with a special gift, and we know who’s pocket Trooper Sullivan is in.
At the same time Billy Costigan is going through the academy. We learn that he is the son of a working class man who was the only person in the family with no criminal record. When he gets to State Police headquarters, he is assigned to go undercover. Using jail time, some small time drug deals through his cousin, and one hell of a beatdown of two Mafia thugs from Providence he works his way into Frank’s operation.
So the police are infiltrating the mob and the mob is infiltrating the police and what transpires is an intense cat and mouse game with Billy trying to get to Colin and vice versa. At one point the police even realize there is a leak and assign none other than Colin Sullivan to find himself.
When Martin Scorsese prepares to roll film on a movie, the best of the best from Hollywood line up and take a number to act in it. The Departed is no exception, with top notch performances from Nicholson, Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg. Even Anthony Anderson shows that he can do a lot with a good script. Pacing-wise, the tension is amped up in the first few minutes and doesn’t let up until the end credits roll. William Monahan’s Oscar winning screenplay offers up twists that no one sees coming, and more importantly, ones that don’t render the characters’ previous actions nonsensical once they are revealed.
It was a crowded Oscar field in the best picture race, but three stood out. Letters From Iwo Jima, which should have resulting in best actor nominations for Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya, Little Miss Sunshine, which is the kind of quirky little indie comedy that always gets nominated and never wins, and The Departed. The Queen was well done, but the only aspects that stood out were the performances by Helen Mirren and James Cromwell. Babel just came off as a poor man’s Crash, taking Crash’s plot structure while ignoring its character development and good acting. Babel presents itself as a movie that depicts what troubles lie in store when there are breakdowns in communication, much as Crash depicted how everyday people are prone to being on both ends of racial profiling. The trouble is, none of the characters in Babel is in the trouble they’re in because of a breakdown in communication. The American couple can’t get medical help because of bureaucratic wrangling. The Mexican nanny is stranded in the desert because her nephew is an idiot. The deaf Japanese girl can’t get laid because people think she’s different. The Moroccan kids don't want to own up to their actions because they’ll get in trouble. All of those troubles would still exist if everyone spoke the same language.
Among the big three, Letters from Iwo Jima had some slow moments, reminding me a lot of Thin Red Line, another WWII movie nominated in 1998. Little Miss Sunshine’s only drawback seems to be that it is a comedy, and Oscar hates comedies. The Departed is a great movie, but Little Miss Sunshine is right up there with it. I think The Departed is slightly better, but only slightly, and if the Academy were a different sort, they might be more willing to honor something funny and could have gone the other way.
I'm all for saying The Departed was a great film. The acting, directing, dialog, and story couldn't have been better. However even with all that saying:
"Pacing-wise, the tension is amped up in the first few minutes and doesn't let up until the end credits roll."
That is as far off as saying that Elf had a gripping storyline. The Departed has about 20 to 30 minutes of tension total and that is spread out evenly throughout the movie. The Departed didn't have me sitting at the edge of my seat. And the only thing I didn't see coming was the very end. Which I was very happy to see. All to often ... oh I shouldn't say anymore about the ending.