The Departed (2006), or Palpable Dupilicity

17 12 2009

A big thanks to the always-delightful Jenni for requesting this movie! And letting me borrow the special edition on DVD! And for being so generous with her time! Thanks for just being Jenni!

Martin Scorcese has made an entire mainstream career out of the crime drama. The life of the criminal is something that has taken a firm grip in his imagination for the past 40 years in the business. From Italian mobsters to turn of the century Irish gang members to Italian mobsters to psychotic rapists to Italian mobsters, Scorcese has examined the ne’er-do-well and put his methods into the public consciousness for generations to come.  Scorcese’s most recent crime film, The Departed, is another classic that deserves to live atop the glittering, gleaming mountain of public adoration that his other movies inhabit. It’s an intense, intricate examination of identity in a cat-and-mouse struggle that does not let up for more than a moment.

Basically a remake of Infernal Affairs, a blazing Asian crime film made in ’02, The Departed changes the setting from Hong Kong to Boston and adds a few Scorcesian twists. Colin Sullivan, growing up in the mean streets of Boston, was always protected by local mob boss Frank Costello. Costello treated him like a father, the way he did with many young men in the neighborhood, grooming them for service in his syndicate. Costello placed so much faith in him that he trained Sullivan to be his mole in the police, so that he would keep tabs on all the cops poking in on his business. Sullivan has done all that has been asked of him by Costello, who he sees as something of a father figure, and it has been easy for him to play both sides. Unfortunately for him, the police have begun to suspect a mole is in their midst, so they send out one of their own. William Costigan, a young cop from a poor Irish Catholic family, is asked to pose as a criminal, gain entry into Costello’s inner circle, and help bring him down. Both of them infiltrate into their assigned organizations, but they both end up arousing suspicions about spies, so they are essentially sent on missions looking for themselves (!!!). Someone has to sniff out someone, though, so it becomes a battle between the two moles to reveal each other before it’s too late. Who will prevail? And how many lives will be lost in the process?

What a captivating concept!!! The Departed takes the innate suspence of lies and recrimination and uses it against us as we are helpless against the drama of it all. Scorcese keeps us rapt in attention as we mysteriously cheer for the sustaining of a lie. Costigan’s situation is such a lose-lose. Much like Nick Nolte’s character from Mother Night, his identity is basically in the hands of one man. Nobody else knows he is undercover, so he has every possibility of being arrested, which would be bad because Sullivan is a police officer!!! It’s very intense, but we are also taken in a bit by the family-man nature of Sullivan. Besides dropping some info here and there to Costello, he’s not a serial killer or some kind of madman. He’s just a man with ties who is trying to cover his ass and his buddy Costello’s ass while he works his sweet desk job. It’s incredibly well-written, and I found myself really involved with these characters and their confusing lives.

Scorcese did not make a shot-for-shot remake by any means. He adds the flair of a director still wanting to try something new. He and his constant cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, creates a Boston that is dirty, frightening, and hopeless. It’s also the most intriguing portrait of the city I have ever seen, so what does that say for the city itself, I wonder… Either way, these characters live in a rough and tumble city, so everybody in this town seems to be as tough as nails. The way they’re shot, the way they talk, and the way they seem to constantly skirt death, all seem to suggest an outward toughness that is only equaled by their hidden, vulnerable interiors. Scorcese really outdid himself here, and while there’s not much to mull over, it doesn’t seem to give us much time to think anyway, so it makes for a good, quality drama that has a lot of stylistic tones to keep us invested.

The cast is superb, as far as big-name Hollywood goes. Jack Nicholson, although somewhat of a Red Herring as far as the story goes, steals the show as Frank Costello. He chews so much scenery I’m surprised he didn’t rip a hole in Boston’s side! His character is so crass and loud and, at times, ridiculous, that it’s like he’s from a different movie. Costello is that character who doesn’t give a fuck anymore because he’s old, but he’d rather die than let anyone disrespect him, so he randomly becomes super-serious and rather scary on a dime, which I suppose is Jack Nicholson’s specialty. What an exceptional character! I love the two moles, though, as well, Sullivan and Costigan, who are played by Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively. These two are intense! They both play essentially the same character under different circumstances, but it’s really interesting how much more you care about DiCaprio’s Costigan despite their similarities. Costigan has it rough, having to pretend to be a street tough and not having much means of fighting back against Sullivan’s trickery. But Sullivan does have the mental anguish to contend with, the nagging sensation that what he’s doing is wrong and that Costello is just using him. Both actors do a fine job, and I’m glad they received the attention they did at the Academy Awards. There are a few good cameos, but my favorite two are Vera Farmiga, whose small role as a psychiatrist who is romantically linked to both moles is the emotional rock of this rough-and-tumble crime saga. She again impresses, just like she did in the shameful horror film Orphan, and makes me connect to this story even more. Mark Wahlberg plays Dignam, one of the only cops aware of Costigan’s identity, and a real bad-ass. No more Mr. Nice Guy here! Marky Mark is willing to fuck some stuff up to get the info he needs and the respect he deserves. Any in-fighting between the cops usually involves him being one step away from pounding someone. He’s great, and I particularly enjoyed his fateful exchange with an FBI goon asking about his contacts, who happens to be his brother, Robert Wahlberg:

Agent Lazio: Do you have anyone in with Costello presently?

Dignam: Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe fuck yourself.

Great stuff!!!!!!

The Departed is a great crime flick about secrets, and how they can be used as a weapon. There are some great performances, some amazing camera work, a decent soundtrack, and some of the best (and at times funniest) dialog in mainstream Hollywood of the decade. In time, it will be a classic, in the vein of Scorcese’s other gems. But for now, it’s a movie that needs to be watched again and again for its amazing quality and succinct storyline. I give The Departed 9 1/2 blind moles out of 10. A high recommendation!

Stay with me, folks, as I continue to write through the night! Later on, I’ll have a review of The Royal Tenenbaums for you! Until then!!!

Orphan (2009), or Never Trust A Cold War Relic

4 12 2009

Well, folks, Eric here with another god-damn preposterous film. I don’t know why so many famous people are attached to Orphan. The thing was financed by Warner Brothers, not known THAT well for their horror films, and somehow they bagged Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio to produce! Not only that, but they snagged Vera Farmiga, soon to be alongside George Clooney in the upcoming Up in the Air, on her way to the top. Considering what we’re dealing with here, I cannot understand how this happened. This is a demonic child movie, one of the weaker thriller scenarios on the market when one considers how large and intelligent a child is and how frightening they can realistically be. DiCaprio won’t sign on to just ANYTHING though, so to up the believability factor they do have an explanation for why this child is so frightening. It happens to be, however, an impossibly lame explanation, a failure of a twist ending that could have come from a reject in an M. Night Shyamalan script pile.

We follow the exploits of the Colemans. They have two lovely children, but are stricken with grief after one of their pregnancies is a stillbirth. They have tried getting over it, but their relationship is complicated as it is, so things are tough when another problem is heaped upon them. Eventually, they decide to adopt, opting to give the love they were reserving for their lost child to someone who needs it just as badly. At the orphanage, they peruse the options like they would at an appliance store or a meat market, but nobody stands out. Until they meet Esther. A child from Russia, Esther is a 9 year old who seems to be perfect for them; she’s smart, charming, cute as a button, and undeniably talented. They pick her almost immediately, and Esther appears to be happy about the decision. Esther and her new family start trying to bond, but it appears that Esther, while outwardly friendly to the parents, begin to have some problems when she interacts with other people, especially children. People who piss her off have a tendency to get hurt, so a trend develops that Esther’s mother soon begins to pick up on. But she’s the only adult who can sense what sort of evil Esther might have in her, so she becomes increasingly detached from her husband who doesn’t think anything is wrong, and her children, who are too terrified to talk about what they’ve seen in Esther.Can she uncover the truth behind this little girl who is more than she seems? Or is it too late for the Colemans to break away from this evil orphan girl?

This is basically the same formula as The Good Son, if you think about it, r a really harsh sequel to Problem Child. It’s been done before, and so if you’re familiar with the formula, it all seems like slightly stale territory. We have the kids who know but are too afraid to tell, we have the overly oblivious parent who thinks that this talk of evil children is nonsense, and we have the other parent who is so sure of the child’s evil nature, she’s willing to make herself look like a crazy bitch and an abusive parent to let the world know. And of course there’s the child, who’s hyper-intelligent and able to carry out complicated, malicious attacks on those around her. It’s usually a pretty silly idea, what with the notion that they’re children, and they don’t have the cognitive capacity or the physical to do some of these things just yet.  BUT ORPHAN HAS A CATCH! Oh, boy, does it have a catch. I anticipate a few Golden Raspberries in this film’s future because of this film’s impossibly weak twist! It’s quite wretched, so much so that I personally felt like it besmirched any sort of good will the movie had with me beforehand. It really got to me, and if you still want to see this movie after my review, don’t let me say I told you so.

The actors are good. Let me rephrase that. These actors are good actors, but their performances here were not that good. Director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to exert much control over these people’s style, so it’s sort of a free-for-all as far as the consistency of the performances as each actor goes into stock characters. Vera Farmiga, soon-to-be famous actress, is passable here as the mother, but I think she should have spoke up about the hysteria her character goes through. She goes through moments of intuitiveness, but other times she’s as dumb as a post, allowing the little demon Esther to play her with ease and simultaneously losing any respect from the audience. Peter Sarsgaard isn’t much help as the father, either. He’s playing his stock “you’re being paranoid, honey” character who doesn’t interact with anybody much besides Vera Farmiga, whom he’s constantly calling out as a paranoid loon who needs to calm down about their secretive and mysterious quirky Russian orphan daughter. The one actor I really enjoyed, despite my hatred of the character, was Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Esther. She is really very good for her age. She knows exactly what to say and how to say it to get a sharp emotional response out of us. I hope she has a long career in films, because I think she has an extraordinary talent on display here that should not go to waste.

Orphan isn’t all bad. The focus on the mother instead of the father as the hero was a welcome breath of fresh air, the complicated relationship the parents have is pretty engrossing, although sometimes it can all get a little faux soap-opera, and the pacing is nice and methodical for a story like this. But with a lame score, a clunker of a script, and possibly the worst twist! of the year, Orphan falls pretty short of any of its goals. Oh, and did I mention… BOO?!?!? There are plenty of gratuitous BOO!s around here, so don’t get your hopes up for anything genuinely scary. I give Orphan 3 1/2 little Russian terrors out of 10.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my review of Photographing Fairies! Until then!