The Departed (2006)
I will never understand the need to remake foreign films and television for the U.S. market. Most other countries are content to get the original, read the subtitles and enjoy the film. I know there are places, like Turkey, that enjoy making cheap unauthorized knockoffs of of other country's content, but one thing I can understand is the need to make a buck, even if it is off of someone else's idea. Movie studios in the United States, by licensing foreign films, can easily make that buck without putting out the money to hire a crew and actors, so it seems like the better path to take.
There are some barriers - for some reason a large part of a highly educated populace states they don't want to "read" a film, where a nation of farmers and factory workers with barely a grade school education were more than willing to do so a century ago - and there is the fact that there is a cultural divide. That hasn't seemed to matter with Jackie Chan films, and interest in John Woo's films previous to Hard Target helped make Chow Yun-Fat enough of a star that audiences were more than happy to give Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a chance, even though it was subtitled.
I say this because The Departed, Martin Scorsese's remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs, managed to win best film and earned Scorsese an Oscar for best director. Although set in Boston, with a change to the ending, the movie is basically the same one that was written by Alan Mak and directed by Andy Lau. Details are changed to make it an American gangster film and, to Scorsese's credit, he wasn't aware he signed on to do a remake until he had already agreed to direct it. As a result of Scorsese's involvement it attracted a worthwhile cast and, while definitely not even approaching the best of his work, still has more going for it than most of the horror movie remakes we get.
Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is groomed by regional gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) most of his adult life to become one of his men. Eventually the way he serves Costello is by becoming a police officer and, after training, joining the Massachusetts State Troopers as a detective. His bosses Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) have been trying to bring down Costello for years, and Colin, as he rises through the ranks as a shining hero cop, keeps his mentor informed of what the police are doing. On the other end is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), who also went through the academy, but whose family has a checkered past that rivals that of Costello. Queenan and Dignam put him undercover with Costello to be their informant. As both men rise in the ranks in their opposite positions, it becomes obvious to both sides that they are compromised, and both Colin and Billy try to flush each other out.
I love Martin Scorsese; he is one of my favorite directors. I have not seen all of his films, but I know he stumbles sometimes. Although it is a remake, The Departed seems to be loved by many, with it ranking alongside Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. Personally, I don't see it; I like Infernal Affairs much better, even if it was a lot more stylized in a typical Hong Kong action way, while The Departed is the typical down-to-earth Scorsese take. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in the best performance here, with Costigan constantly scared that he will be found out or that he will be forced to do something that he won't be able to return from. It leads to depression, drug addiction and a number of other problems, least of all being in love with the same woman (Vera Farmiga) as Colin.
Matt Damon, on the other hand, is merely okay. He can be great when he wants to be, but his performance as Colin, except at the point where he finally confronts Frank, seems phoned in. He is typically not put under the same strain as Billy, but there is little to Colin's character that makes one care about him or what his personal stakes may be. Martin Sheen, who plays the boss of both men, sparks more emotion than Colin, and Sheen brings more to his performance even though he isn't given much more screen time than Alec Baldwin, who plays the head of one of his departments. Mark Wahlberg, though it's easy to make jokes about him playing a hot-headed Southie that spouts racial epithets, still does more with a role that could have been a mere stereotype than Damon does with one of the key players in the film.
The other problem, and I hate to say it because I love watching him in almost every film he is in, is Jack Nicholson. This is one of his last roles before he retired from acting, and Scorsese largely gave him carte blanche on how he played the role of Frank Costello. In the past he would have nailed it, making Costello a person might see on the street and not think twice about, but who could snap at any instant. Instead Nicholson makes Costello a caricature, and starts entering Marlon Brando territory in amping up the weirdness. This is a role in which I need to believe Costello, even if he isn't the biggest boss (he even admits that Costigan's dad, and uncle, could have taken him down easily if they were inclined) is at least the toughest rooster in the yard. Instead it is Jack Nicholson simply playing a role, and it never ceases to be Jack Nicholson playing a role.
As for the filming I find some of the cuts and editing to be sub-par for a Scorsese film. Not everything he does has to look like Goodfellas or Casino, but it seems like he tries to change things up here to make his filming look more modern, and it simply does not work. A number of killings come toward end without any fancy camera work, and it works so much better, both visually and emotionally. It's not much of a surprise that he was more reserved on his next film, Shutter Island, even if that particular film was one of the few times he truly bottomed out.
Scorsese is definitely not at the bottom on The Departed. I still found it an all right film, even if I felt the unique hollowness I often feel when faced with a remake. It does shine a bit of light on the Academy of Film Arts and Sciences that they saw fit to honor a more bland example of Scorsese's work while ignoring many of his better films, but it is rare that truly memorable or deserving movies win any of the major awards. The Departed is Scorsese on autopilot, and so it is really neither.
The Departed (2006)
Time: 151 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin
Director: Martin Scorsese