Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Departed

When Steve McClaren took over as England football manager recently, he informed the press that he would adopt a different management style to his predecessor, the notorious Sven Goran Ericsson. He would go to the players clubs, he promised, and talk to their respective managers there, with the intention of discovering how the players were managed day to day. McClaren's objective was to replicate the working conditions the players enjoyed at club level, and hopefully, therefore, transfer their club success to the England team. This interesting approach should allow the star players to play to their strengths in the England team, in roles they were used to playing. Also McClaren's approach would mean the players could get the kind of direction that they enjoyed at their clubs, the kind of direction that produced success at club level.

Supplant Martin Scorcese for Steve McClaren for a moment. Now lets have Jack Nicholson in nets, DiCaprio and Damon up front. Wahlberg, Winstone and Anderson in midfield. M. Sheen and A. Baldwin anchor the centre of defence (experience adds half a yard of pace after all) and a couple of familiar character actors at left and right-back.

With The Departed, Martin Scorcese has heeded the rhetoric of McClaren. Team Departed is a force to be reckoned with for many reasons, but mainly because all the leading players are working to their strengths, doing what they do best, and effortlessly demonstrating to us why they are at the top of their game.

The Aviator whetted my appetite for The Departed, so much so I feared I would be disappointed (the Lucas Principle at work again). I was not. Scorcese had earnestly promised a move away from the Oscar-chasing of 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator', back towards the material he knows best: City Streets, killer soundtracks, gangsters, and groups of guys betraying each other. Back to basics then, which should be music to the ears of fans of 'Goodfellas' and 'Casino'.

Even established Hollywood actors must get a thrill when Martin Scorcese rings to offer them a part in his latest offering, much the same as a club player getting the nod for his country. Not that Leonardo DiCaprio's casting was ever in any doubt after his career-best turn (in my book) in Scorcese's last run-out 'The Aviator'. But I can imagine Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and yes, even Jack himself getting a little excited when Marty called and said "I'm thinking of you for a part in my new cop thriller. Going back to basics on this one, something more like Goodfellas, y'know?" ... what do you say to that!? It would appear that you say 'Yes' for a start, as the super heavyweight cast of the Departed ably demonstrates.

Scorcese is not just a man with a big reputation though, he's also one of the few Hollywood directors capable of reaching a mass audience while also delivering real quality.. some manage to do one of those two things, but few are capable of both.

The Departed is a remake of a Hong Kong actioner called 'Infernal Affairs', and the source material gives the team plenty to work with. DiCaprio is excellent as the undercover cop struggling to make an impression with his suspicious colleagues, and new boss Jack Nicholson. What can you say about Jack that hasn't already been said? He annihilates the screen, and even the Boston accent can't hold him back. Matt Damon is the Jack's plant in the police force, rising steadily through the ranks of Boston's finest, while secretly on Jack's payroll all the time.

The three leads all give great performances, with Matt Damon surprisingly good in a role that's possibly darker than anything he's tackled previously. The supporting cast though.. where do you start?! Martin Sheen is quietly authoritative, while Alec Baldwin is walking testosterone, harking back to his Glengarry Glenross turn in many moments here. Mark Wahlberg, too, is on top form, and this may be the first role since 'Boogie Nights' that he has really engaged with, his character has some of the best lines, and he has a good repartee with Alec Baldwin in particular.

Scorcese definitely had fun making 'The Departed', and though you may be forgiven for forgetting it, all his best movies have comic moments, and The Departed is no different. The dialogue crackles and there are more than a couple of big laughs in here. Given that the principal characters are either Boston Cops or Boston gangsters, the one-liners are sharp, funny and not at all out of place.

However, at it's core, the movie is a dark, tightly crafted, twisting thriller that propels you towards its inevitable bloody climax in a manner as sure-footed and fleet of foot as you would expect from Scorcese.

If The Departed was a football team, it would win world cups. As a film, it may yet win Scorcese his oscar.

Verdict: just go see it, ya mook.
Rating: 9/10

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