Dennis suggests casting a sidelong glance at The Departed (in Mystery/Thriller). Okay, let me get this out of the way first, in order to deflect the vicious, dismissive criticism (and, perhaps, actual, physical stuff) that’s going to be thrown my way: I liked this movie very much. It’s Martin-freaking-Scorcese, and that means challenging work with actors, brilliant editing [co-thanks to genius editor Thelma Schoonmaker], and the g-d surest storytelling hand in American cinema today. It’s got truly exciting
performances, brutal, excellently-choreographed violence and action, and some real resonance. And that Dropkick Murphys song they play at all the Red Sox games is pretty cool (even if they are a pale, American Pogues knockoff). That all being said, I have some complaints. First, the script is an issue: Scorcese has said that this is ‘his first film with a plot’, and therein lies the problem. Adapted from the equally clunky but almost equally entertaining Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs, The Departed carries its progenitor’s story improbabilities and thinness of character as a consequence of it being tied to its gimmicky narrative throughline. One’s a cop pretending to be a crook while one’s a crook pretending to be a cop. Fine, but that high concept becomes the movie in both cases, and, for Scorcese, that’s a sacrifice of character and depth to premise that you don’t get in, say, Goodfellas. In this one, he seems to let the plot play him, and the lack of resonance to the two main characters robs the proceedings of the hidden depths you feel running under the wingtipped feet of his previous gangsters. As for the performances, I gotta say that Leonardo DiCaprio (as much as I was underwhelmed by him in Gangs of New York), really justifies Scorcese’s continued faith in him; he brings as much depth to his conflicted character as he can. Matt Damon, playing a more thankless role (the crook weaseling his way through the guts of the Boston police) has less to work with, but I liked him anyway. There’s sterling, scene stealing support from Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, David O’Hara, and especially Mark Wahlberg. Jack Nicholson (who sports the most inconsistent of the admittedly motley collection of Boston accents) is hammily entertaining at the cost of the picture; here I blame Scorcese for not reining Jack in properly. Oh, and the less said about Vera Farmiga and the utterly uninvolving love triangle plot the better; she’s a drip. I dunno, gang, The Departed is easily one of the best crime thrillers you could choose on any random day, but…overrated. Sorry.
Instead, Dennis suggests Gone Baby Gone (in Mystery Thriller). It was a tough year for the Boston Chamber of Commerce with both this movie and The Departed asserting, in no uncertain terms, that the capital of the Bay State was a haven for mobsters, drug runners, gunplay, corrupt cops, uneducated thuggery, and, worst of all, dodgy regional accents; Videoport’s Sam suggested, in his best Mayor Quimby voice, that the state’s new slogan should be, “Boston: We’re, um, not really like this”. In this one, based on a novel by Mystic River’s Dennis Lehane, Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play a (romantic) couple of baby faced, low-rent detectives who are hired to find a 3-year old girl who’s disappeared. I’m really not going to say too much about the plot other than that, because I was genuinely happy with the way the story kept me off balance and on edge. What I will say, is that Gone Baby Gone is a better movie than The
Departed. Yeah, I said it. Now, does that mean that I think first-time director (and everybody’s former whipping-boy) Ben Affleck is a better director than the legendary Martin Scorcese? Well, no, of course not, don’t be stupid. But I will assert that this movie out-authentics Scorcese’s in literally every way. Firstly, it was actually filmed in and around Boston and didn’t just pick up some establishing shots before running back to New York to film the real movie like some Oscar winners I could mention. But that’s minor compared to the ground level verisimilitude that Affleck captures here; unlike The Departed’s carefully-coached panoply of Hollywood faces and accents, the shady, ordinary characters in Gone Baby Gone look and sound exactly like the grown up versions of the kids who used to menace me in junior high. And, hey, lets give it up to little brother Casey who, as the innocent-seeming but surprisingly-capable private eye, inhabits his world with all the presence in the world. This (and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford) mark Casey’s coming out party; the guy is a genuine movie star now, a legitimate leading man, make no mistake. Throw in spot-on support from Monaghan, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Morgan Freeman, and Amy Ryan as the drugged out sort-of grieving mother, and you have a hauntingly rich, deeply affecting, and very assured directoral debut from Big Ben. Well done, sir.