Martin Scorsese managed the big score with The Departed, grabbing "Best Picture" and "Best Director" at the Oscars. According to the end credits, the movie is based on a Hong Kong film, and the screenplay was adapted from that. That's OK, one of my favorite SF films is 12 Monkeys, which Terry Gilliam based on a previously-released but mostly-unknown French film. It does make one wonder if Hollywood has any genuine screenwriters. At least you have an excuse with crime fiction--the plots have probably already been done, given the massive amount of crime lit and crime movies this country has created. The Departed is long, very long, but brisk and well-made. The action moves along and the actors shine in their tough-guy roles. I might be a minority, but I think Jack Nicholson has worn out his creep act. Surely a brilliant actor, he seems to go downhill as a movie goes on. I started out enjoying his sleazy Irish mob boss, but grew weary of his smirks and groans as the thing went on (and on). I was glad to see him get plugged. Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin get the best lines and seem to steal the show, Wahlberg with his profane dramatic intensity and Baldwin with his over-the-top bits that border on comedy. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent, and the only real sympathetic character. He plays the undercover cop penetrating Nicholson's mob, and has the expected identity crisis and psychological meltdown. John Le Carre writes about the "running of joes" (agents handling their foreign spys) with great depth and sensitivity in a number of his books. The work between Wahlberg and Martin Sheen as "handlers" and DiCaprio as the "joe" is the strong part of the movie, giving it an espionage drama vibe, and ratcheting up the tension. Despite the violence and fast pace, tension is lacking a bit, but DiCaprio's tortured juggling act keeps you glued to the seat. The Boston setting is beautifully filmed, and the accents are mostly realistic (Matt Damon) but sometimes uneven (Sheen). Remember, my folks are from Boston, I know how to "pahk a cah." The love interest is mostly pointless, and the fact that she provides the link between Damon and DiCaprio is a little far-fetched. The climax is an exploding-head-fu festival that would make Joe Bob proud, and the penultimate scene sews up the good-bad morality tale rather neatly. All in all, an entertaining plot-driven film made by a top-notch skilled crew. I don't put much stock in Oscars, and couldn't tell you if it was indeed "The Best Picture" or not, but it was a quality work. They made 90-minute movies "back in the day" when men were Robert Mitchum and women were Ava Gardner, and I get antsy with today's epic-length efforts. But The Departed has a big enough cast and plenty of story to make it work.
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