Friday, October 20, 2006

The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006, B-)

I love learning about the movies from Alfred Hitchcock. One of his more famous explanations involves the difference between suspense and surprise. Surprise is having two men eating lunch and then suddenly a bomb explodes under their table. Suspense is showing us the bomb under the table before it goes off, so that the audience knows about it but the two men don't. And so we wait in anticipation for the moment when the bomb will go off. The thing about suspense that I love is that, if well done, it stands up to multiple viewings. The thing about surprise is that it's great the first time around, not so much the second and third (though, of course, exceptions abound).

The Departed is all about suspense for a good four-fifths of its running time. We know who the undercover cop is and we know who the informant is, but they don't know each other, and we wait in anticipation to find out when and how they'll discover each other. But Scorsese wastes a lot of time letting Jack Nicholson chew scenery, and drags out the cat and mouse/mouse and cat game between Damon's character and DiCaprio's character to the point where nearly all suspense and anticipation are lost. After awhile it gets tiresome waiting for Damon and DiCaprio to discover each other. The movie is just too darn long. Scorsese tries to make up for this by adding a few surprises into the mix at the end, but they feel cheap -- the suspense is lost, the movie's getting a little long, so let's throw in a couple of out-of-left-field surprises to keep it interesting. Well, the surprises are somewhat surprising, but ultimately unsatisfying. And Nicholson's character turns out to be a dead-end -- he sucks up screen time with an over-the-top performance (which I did find entertaining), but in the end his presence in the film means nothing, except as an excuse for the plot.

The thing that saves The Departed for me is Scorsese's skill as a director and as an artist. His love of cinema, his playfulness with the camera, with sound and music, with little tricks like irises -- the guy is having fun, and that fun is translated to the audience. And the movie is funny too, in a salty, dark sort of way.

J. Hoberman in the Village Voice sums it up pretty well: "Neither a debacle nor a bore, The Departed works but only up to a point, and never emotionally."


Adam Walter said...

I'd put the film a couple clicks below you (grading it about a C), but you make a number of good points here.

Nice blog, BTW. Glad to see you're a Chesterton fan.

The Derelict said...

Well, I feel like I might have graded the movie on a little bit of a curve, only because I had to use the lady's room about two thirds into the movie and I resisted and so was uncomfortable for the last part of the movie. So I tried to make up for my personal discomfort by going a little easy on it. I think the more I think about it (and the more I hear people fawning all over it), the more I'm thinking it's just a pretty average film, somewhere around the C/C+ range.

And, yes, I love Chesterton. I wish someone would adapt The Flying Inn into a movie -- they'd have a fun, funny, and daring film on their hands!