Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cinema: The Departed

Despite positive reviews in the press, I thought Martin Scorsese's new film The Departed was for the most part a tremendous bore and reminded me of what the music critic John Harris said about U2 - though in their mid-forties, they were still singing about neon skies and open roads, pedalling the same tired old wares to a seemingly grateful public. Harris argued that if Bono and the boys wanted to be compared to rock greats like Dylan and Young, they would have to describe something of their own lives, specifically getting older, instead of opting for hopeless generalities about getting 'stuck in moments you can't get out of.'
It seems apposite when considering Scorsese, who is still making films about extremely violent men, which while undoubtedly profesionally made and shot, are creativley moribund. Critics have described this is a return to form after the anaemic 'Aviator' but it feels to me more like an act of desperation, a tacit acknowledgement that Scorsese has nothing new to say. There is a curiously 'out of time, out of place' quality to 'The Departed' because of the absence of any references to contemporary America. What there is a lot of is people cursing at each other and casual violence as played out in a fairly leaden story about the thin line that separates the police and criminals.
Inevitably Jack Nicholson has been singled out by critics, from whom he appears to have immunity, as giving the lead performance for his portrayal of Boston Irish gang boss Frank Costelloe. It is in fact a ridiulous turn - essentially a reprise of his Joker in the first Batman - and prevents the film from having any real sense of menace.
In its defence, there is occasionally some fine dialogue with Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin in supporting roles having the best of the comic riffs. But these aren't enough to alleviate the tedium as you notice the clock hitting the two and half hour mark.
Scorsese's last project was No Direction Home, a documentary on Bob Dylan, which started promisingly but got fixated on Dylan's decision to go 'electric' for Blonde on Blonde. His supposed betrayal of the folk scene was examined and re-examined ad nauseam leaving little or no time to cover Dylan's later years. Scorsese got stuck in a moment he couldn't get out of, and with 'The Departed' he's doing it all over again. Why doesn't he simply ditch these lame gangster stories and go off on a mad tangent like Kundun for the remainder of his career? It may be more difficult to get films like this made but surely it is better to take risks than to play out the same move again and again. And anyway there is such a thing as late style after all.

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