Why is The Departed not in the New York Film Festival? Because, after seeing it last night, I have to say that it’s certainly among the best films to be released this Fall (NYFF is the annual showcase for that). Martin Scorsese’s first crime film in a dozen years is worth all the hype. It’s worth the hype about its (incredible) cast. It’s worth the hype about the first-ever Jack Nicholson/Martin Scorsese pairing. It’s worth the hype about the Oscars. And, it’s worth the hype about how this will be a big success of a release for all involved. The film (a remake of the Hong Kong crime classic Infernal Affairs) even defies the odds and is just as good if not in many ways better, than the source material.
The Departed is very bloody, often funny, and entirely epic (it’s like 150 minutes long). It’s probably the most epic American crime film since Michael Mann’s Heat. In fact, The Departed is what we hoped Miami Vice would be. But, as this new film proves, Michael Mann is great but he’s no Martin Scorsese. Marty’s still got plenty of great tricks up his sleeve, for a man that singlehandedly owned the Italian mob genre of the 1990s. This time, the action is set in Boston, where new and old-school Irish-Americans battle it out on both sides of the law. And, battle it out they do.
Everyone’s at the top of their game in The Departed. Even respectable actors with smaller roles (Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone) shine through in charismatic supporting performances. But, the star of the show is obviously Jack Nicholson, who gets plenty of room to play in his first true-blue villain role in over a decade. But, like I said, everyone is at the top of their game here. It’s a delightful example of watching talented artists who clearly have respect for one another and bring everything to the table. And, mixing all these ingredients perfectly (William Monahan’s script not to be outdone), is Martin Scorsese.
Scorsese is batting a thousand lately, following up his brilliant doc No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, with this fierce study of betrayal and brutality. In certain textures, though, this isn’t such a shift in sensibility. Even when he makes a period piece, Scorsese understands that a musician and a criminal, aren’t too far apart (I won’t even comment on the fact that Scorsese once directed a Michael Jackson video). With 1978’s The Last Waltz, Scorsese’s landmark concert film not only made history for all the great music but for all the great drugs (some even visible onscreen). It’s no secret that music is a big part of Goodfellas and Casino. Music is a huge part of The Departed.
This makes it even more refreshing to watch the new film. In an age of manufactured song scores, The Departed uses classic rock songs to set a mood, not sell records. And, in many cases, the classic rock songs implemented create a separate character throughout the story. I can’t wait to get my hands on the actual disc, because now I won’t be able to hear certain tunes without thinking of Scorsese’s latest masterpiece.