Cinemalphabet: D is for The Departed (2006)
Many of my cinematic memories can only be fully accessed if I can remember exactly what I was doing when they occurred. So it is I begin this entry on the Academy Award winning film The Departed. Nail polish – Orly’s Mirror Mirror to be exact – is the cerebral filing cabinet housing this particular cinematic memory. Under normal circumstances I tend to steer clear of Scorese, not because I don’t enjoy his films; I do. I mean I would if I could actually enjoy them without having to cover my face throughout most of the riveting action. “Silly” cartoonish violence of a Die Hard-ian nature is preferable to me than gritty, realistic stuff. I also don’t enjoy the sights or sounds of cinematic gritty violence and gore. I don’t need to hear the crunch of bones breaking as a body falls from a building window and slams against the pavement. Just set off some car alarms, cut away from the shot and I’ll get the picture.
And don’t freaking try to surprise me either! There better be copious amounts of ominous music – brooding cellos, brassy horns. I see you, B DeP – giving me ample warning and time to squint my eyes and plug my ears. Though if only one option is available, I’d rather plug my ears. In fact, watching The Departed or any other gritty Scorese film with the sound muted and the captions ablazing is my standard operating procedure. I freaking love the mess out of Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorese’s longtime editor and don’t like to miss any of her sublime cuts. From the link (an article, which I wrote, btw):
Schoonmaker, while not as edgy as Dede Allen, is still quite a dazzling editor. Her choices are also deliberate, but diverge from Allen’s, as the visual language of their respective directors is much different, despite both having an interest in gritty narratives. It’s interesting to note the stylistic decisions Schooner and Allen make when presented with the same story. A double feature suggestion would be Robert Rossen’s The Hustler and Scorsese’s gritty film The Color of Money, which by the way, is the sequel to The Hustler. Oh yeah, and Mr. Salad Dressing himself, Paul Newman, stars in both! Any more excuses to avoid them?
Mark Wahlberg is a hoot; that’s what he is. His performance is over the top in a way that fully serves his character and all the ways I personally enjoy. I haven’t adored of a performance of his this much – though I usually find him thoroughly enjoyable – since his Dirk Diggler days. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio have long felt interchangeable to me and finally a director sought to put that interchangeability to good use. Even though I love Damon as Bourne, it’s usually tempered by the realization that DiCaprio would have been equally entertaining in the role too. That said, I think I would have liked DiCaprio in Damon’s Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen role slightly more. Sometimes, when I’m watching those films I do pretend it’s DiCaprio as Linus Caldwell and my enjoyment, which is already quite high, increases exponentially.
No matter how often Damon plays likable characters, or how much I enjoy the characters/his performances, I can’t ignore the undercurrent of sleaziness wafting from the screen try as I might. Regardless of whether or not the character is supposed to possess that quality. We’re not talking about Peter Sarsgaard levels of sleaze (I adore him, btw) but more of a light sleaziness, which will serve Damon well when he’s old and gets to play cheeky bastards, which I hope he does with aplomb. The sleazy undercurrent hasn’t been this well utilized since Rounders, which is my favorite Damon role.
Female roles in Scorese films, in my opinion, tend to be superfluous as best; The Departed is no exception. Now, I’m all for sustainability and being economical, but seriously, did the main characters really need to share a woman? The hypnotic Vera Farmiga (oh how I love her. She’s my Tilda Swinton) co-stars as Madolyn, a shrink who’s torn between two lovers in the most Mary MacGregorian sort of way. Farmiga’s work in The Departed is engaging, considering the limited amount of stuff she gets to do. The supporting players, Alec Baldwin (wow, he’s come full circle, cinematically speaking) and Martin Sheen are highly entertaining, though they aren’t asked to do much other than perpetuate Irish cop stereotypes and bark orders in what I’m told are convincing Boston accents.
The Departed features an all-star cast acting as hard as they can as though their lives depend on it, which is helpful, since in most cases it probably is. When Frank Costello (Nicholson) says flippantly, “We all are; act according,” in response to another character’s statement, “My mother’s on her way out,” Costello wasn’t kidding. After all, the film isn’t called The Arrived! With comprehension of the film’s title firmly in place, it’s simply a matter of bracing oneself and enjoying the ride. And there’s a lot to enjoy.