Defending THE DEPARTED

The Departed movie poster


I ranted about how people were being too negative against Hollywood remakes last week in my The Lake House review, It's absurd to see how many people have long decided that The Departed would suck despite the fact that it has Martin Scorsese directing, and having big-name cast members like Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin in it. To the asian movie lovers, this is a sign of Hollywood 'running out of ideas', and in desperation, that had to 'remake' Asian films. Like duh, as if Asian films don't 'borrow' from Hollywood films at all.

It's unfair to compare a film with its remake, just like how I usually don't review a film by comparing it to its source material. But alas this how a lot of people will review The Departed, and you'll hear things like:



"Leo DiCaprio and Matt Damon aren't as manly as Tony Leung and Andy Lau!"

Tony Leung and Andy Lau in Infernal Affairs


or

"Christopher Doyle's cinematography is so much sleeker and MTV-like compared to The Departed's gritty look!"

Tony Leung and Andy Lau in Infernal Affairs

Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed




or

"Hah, Eric Tsang has more acting skills than 3-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson!",

or

"Martin Sheen is much too old to be in Anthony Wong's role!"

or

"I don't like the deaths in The Departed, too distant and deadpan, almost blackly comedic, much unlike the sheer emotional intensity of Infernal Affairs!"

or

"The Departed is such a shitty title, Infernal Affairs sounds much better!"

There are lots of contradictions, Asian film lovers hate the idea of Hollywood remaking the film, accusing creative bankruptcy, yet they won't be happy unless the remake is a frame-to-frame remake, regardless of the differences of cultures and styles. It's annoying, it also makes me very cautious when it comes to adapting the works of another (good thing I usually write my own scripts... for now).

So, I'm reviewing this film as if Infernal Affairs does not exist.

Both films may share the same plot, and some of the classic scenes from IA are revisited in The Departed, but they are vastly different from each other in terms of scope, style and tone. IA's a swift, slick, quick-paced crime thriller, The Departed's more epic, bloody and ugly (not in a bad way) and attempts to flesh out its characters, wrap up all loose ends the way the two IA sequels did, and it's also more comedic.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The DepartedRight, the plot. (Copy and paste from Wikipedia...) Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose family has a long criminal history, is assigned by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his second-in-command Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg, in the best performance I've ever seen him in) to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) or else is kicked off the force. While Costigan quickly gains Costello's confidence, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon, as sleazy and evil as he was in The Talented Mr. Ripley), whose family, unlike Billy's, has no criminal history, and who is a protege of Costello who has infiltrated the police department as an informant for the syndicate, is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit, headed by Captain Ellerby (Alec Baldwin, funny as ever). After discovering that both sides have a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin, suddenly in danger of being exposed to the enemy, have to race against time to uncover the identity of another man to save himself.

Billy Costigan also gets involved with a psychiatrist, Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), who happens to be the girlfriend of Colin Sullivan. And Frank Costello has a very hardcore righthand man who does the killing called Mr. French (Ray Winstone, who was in The Preposition, an Australian film that I enjoyed), I have to mention Mr. French because he has such a cool name, and his last scene in the movie made me went 'whoa!'.

Yes, I like this film a lot, and I think it's one of the best films of the year. As much as I've enjoyed Martin Scorsese's previous film, The Aviator, despite its pretentiousness (too obvious an Oscar bait), this is definitely less heavy-handed and enjoyable. And as I've said before, it's funny like hell. I'm most likely going to root for this during next year's Academy Awards.

Now, the performances...

Jack Nicholson has the showiest role as the gang boss who becomes gradually crazier throughout the film as things start spinning out of his control. I think Frank Costello is even crazier than The Joker was in Batman, walking into a bar with his entire body covered in blood, making a zany rat impression (I can't imagine Robert De Niro and Al Pacino pulling off the same thing), or brandishing a severed hand while giving a speech, or flashing himself in a porn theater. He'll either gross you out, or make you giggle, or both.

I've always felt that Leonardo DiCaprio is entirely underrated after all the negativity he got for Titanic (... as if he gave a BAD performance in that film, sheesh!). Sure, Man In The Iron Mask was kinda bad (but also good, in a campy way), and The Beach was mediocre (... but also good, cos' French hottie Virginie Ledoyen was in it), but he is definitely a much better and charismatic actor than, say, Orlando Bloom. The guy had always been consistently good, in Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can (the film that made me realize how good Leo actually is) and The Aviator (Oscar-nominated, nuf' said) , but in this movie, he's really pretty damned good (could be better than the performance in The Aviator, like most critics said). He's a main character you'll root for, much unlike those non-Legolas Orlando Bloom characters that you want dead. Why can't Michelle AKA My Favouritest Person In The World forgive him for LeoMania? :(

Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson in The DepartedMatt Damon's very good too. I haven't seen him so good since Team America, when he went around saying 'Matt Damon!'... all right, I'm kidding, but unlike Andy Lau's morally conflicted character in Infernal Affairs, the Colin Sullivan character is more like an actual insincere, slimebag asshole who does everything to cover his own ass. Kinda like Talented Mr Ripley, but more manly, and less creepy.

Yet this is a film where the minor characters will leave a deep impression, like the aforementioned Ray Winstone's Mr. French, Alec Baldwin's Captain Ellerby and ESPECIALLY Mark Wahlberg's Sergeant Dignam, who has plenty of AWESOME lines in the film. I never warmed to Marky Mark's performances all these years, feeling that he's too boring to be a main character (see: The Italian Job, Perfect Storm etc.), but in a hardass role like this, he's great. Judging from the audience reception in the cinema yesterday, I think he and Big Papa Jack's character are the most popular.

As for Martin Sheen, while he was solid as Queenan (being a veteran, do you think he's capable of sucking?), I think things would've been more interesting if Robert De Niro had taken the role instead (he was originally offered the role but couldn't do it due to scheduling conflicts). Martin Sheen felt more like a nice and gruffy old man, than a cop. And Vera Farmiga... well, I think she delivered a better performance than Kelly Chen.

(Er, oops. There goes my vow of not comparing the movie with the original.)

The film's gripping, and if I haven't seen IA, the twists would've blown me away more (though this films do have its own twists) since I wouldn't know who would die and how they would die. But highly recommended, only if you watch it and appreciate it for its own merits without comparing it with the original.


The Departed trailer


Related reviews:

The Sensintrovert: The Departed: Gwai Lou Mo Gan Dou
Howsy posts a few information about this film, and gives it 7 out of 10.

Blogcritics.org: The Departed - Scorsese's Time Has Come
Adam Hoff lists out a few factors on why Scorsese's Oscar chances are favourable.

Blogcritics.org: Movie Review: The Departed
Daniel Woolstencroft, like me, thinks that Leo's performance is bloody impressive.