Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Speaking ill of The Departed

Finally saw The Departed, and though the time for buzzing about this film has long since passed (Ha! Passed! Get it?), I'll share my thoughts anyway. I didn't see all of the nominated films this year (though I did better than I usually do), but I am still inclined to quibble with The Departed's Oscar wins.

The screenplay was really not that exciting or clever or coherent. The movie was edited so skittishly that most of the time, I felt like I was watching a recap reel ("previously on The Departed...") instead of the actual movie. The direction -- well, I can't pretend to know much about Scorsese's body of work up to this point, and I don't feel like I know much about him now, but I really wouldn't say this was distinguished work.

On the other hand, I liked the cast a lot; nearly everyone was better than I expected, with the exception of Alec Baldwin, who was his usual puffy, oily self, and Mark Wahlberg, who was just too twerpy for the role. (Not sure where that Oscar nod came from.) Nicholson took me by surprise with his accent, his mannerisms, his approach to the character -- I'm not sure whether I thought the choices he made were good ones, but the fact that he made those choices, when I was expecting his standard act, was enough to keep me entertained. So I'm not saying I wasted an evening -- if I hadn't known the movie was a major award-winner, I'd have enjoyed it well enough. But the plot was hard to follow, only sometimes in a good way -- and after a while, I started to suspect that it wasn't intricately constructed, as it wanted me to believe, but rather made up on the fly, with a double-agent revelation and/or a sudden execution every time the screenwriters got bored. All the action couldn't keep me from watching the clock, hoping this latest twist would be the ultimate twist, so I could go to bed. (I was also a little distracted by all the Sprint and Dell product placements.) Its grand "themes" were self-indulgent and unconvincing, and the "romantic" subplot was patronizing and silly -- I'd have preferred not to see women at all, if that's what passes for a centering female presence in this world. In the end, diverting though it was, The Departed didn't strike me as Best Picture material. To my eyes, the comparison set up by that visual reference to The Third Man in the final scenes of this movie wasn't all that flattering; it just enhanced my impression that The Departed is more interesting for its trivia facts, its star-studded cast, its will-Scorsese-finally-win buzz, than for its basic merit. And somehow I feel like we've let posterity down.

However, I acknowledge that my idea of what "Best Picture" should mean is not at all grounded in the award's actual history, and I further acknowledge that action/suspense/organized crime isn't my favorite genre. What do you think? Am I just out of my depth, genre-wise? Should I check out Scorsese's reputedly superior films?

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