Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: William Monahan, Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Producer: Brad Pitt, Brad Grey, Graham King
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Corrigan, Robert Wahlberg
Running Time: 151 min.
A remake of the Andrew Lau crime drama, Infernal Affairs, featuring Hong Kong acting god, Tony Leung, as well as Andy Lau, The Departed shifts the setting to Boston and decides to cram all three movies from the series into one story. Both films are essentially cat-and-mouse stories about a cop dealing with a traitor in his ranks who’s working with the mob the precint is trying to take down.
I have yet to see the last two sequels in the trilogy, partly because I feel the original IA works fine as a self-contained narrative, and partly because I’m lazy. So I am judging The Departed solely by how it matches up with Infernal Affairs, and not the rest of the series. With that in mind, I have to note that for me, the director of The Departed, Martin Scorsese, is hit-and-miss. I know there are a lot of COF’ers who love the guy, and as I slowly work my way through his filmography, I feel there are works of his that are brilliant (The Last Temptation of Christ and Goodfellas), works of his which could be better, if they didn’t cop out, and become generic Charles Bronson-esque vigilante films (Taxi Driver) – and works which just leave me cold in their slow pacing and lack of underlying themes. (Raging Bull and Hugo)
Unfortunately, The Departed suffers the worst tendencies of the latter category of Scorsese’s oeuvre, even though it clearly aspires to be as electrifying as his prior classics. The reason Infernal Affairs succeeds is because it tells a simple story which incorporates elements of suspense, tension, and shock to great effect. You literally do not know what will happen to either the protagonist or antagonist until the very end. The Departed, on the other, hand, spells out every damned surprise ahead of time-and in such a way, that it becomes predictable. I know that Marty is the gold standard for a number of Asian filmmakers, including John Woo, and I appreciate that he gave credit to the original picture and director at the Oscars, unlike certain nameless individuals who worked on Black Swan. And I hope that Marty gets his adaptation of Silence off the ground, because its premise seems compelling. But, with that said, he really gets too much leeway on his projects, and frankly, needs someone to help him reign in his excesses-because he does a horrible job of it on his own.
I’m fine with “Yo Mama” jokes. I can accept racial epithets used within context of the story, and not promoting actual intolerance. And I can deal with intricately planned crimes and scenarios which take a while to get off the ground, and whatever gains or losses ensue thereafter. But when a whole film is more about people chewing each other out and explaining every little unnecessary detail about the crimes, the settings, and the blowback, instead of getting on with the action, it’s bound to get tedious. I do not need to know about Leo’s character’s complications with certain anti-depressants any more than I need to know about the office politics of the Boston cops. And Jack, you’re my still favorite actor among the cast, but they did you wrong by sidelining your screentime in favor of Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg, and having you relegated to the role of small-time gangster. I remember Eric Tsang being a lot more imposing and brutal in the original film as the head of the triad group. Nicholson, on the other hand, is wasted as a poor man’s Tony Soprano who’s generally just there for throwaway quips. He’s the one selling the movie in the trailer, and yet, he is barely there in the actual film. I know Billy Connolly is not in the same league as any of these stars, but even he got more action in Boondock Saints than Jack in The Departed.
Furthermore, I know the original IA also focused on the the cops’ private lives, but only in a way which served the motivations of the characters. The details of their relationships do not come off as an aside of unnecessary information, as they do in The Departed. So while I cared about the characters in Infernal Affairs, The Departed’s approach only served to make me care less about them. And by the time we do get to any actual pay-offs in The Departed, in terms of shoot-outs or double-crosses, they come off anticlimactic. While I can respect and handle most violent content in films, I am not a fan of gunshot wound porn. The camera should only linger as long as it takes to leave an impression to the viewer, of what the character is dealing with, not more than that. Otherwise, again, you do stop caring about the victim in question. And while IA is violent, too, it only uses violence in a way which delivers impact. I do not feel as if the moment of death is being exploited as I do in The Departed.
So overall, The Departed is an ok adaptation which could, like The Dark Knight, be 30 minutes shorter. I don’t hate it, but at the same time, I don’t feel it lived up to the hype of its predecessor, which is tighter, and more well-defined. The Departed, on the other hand, is juvenile, scatter-brained, and boring.
Ningen’s Rating: 9/10 for the talent; 6.5 for the action; 3/10 for the pacing; 6/10 for the “story”; and 6.5/10 overall