The Departed

The nominations:

  • Mark Wahlberg – Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Martin Scorcese – Achievement in Directing
  • Achievement in Film Editing
  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Adapted Screenplay

The black-and-white:

Review by GKS:

I’m tired and I’m cranky, so I’m not going to tiptoe around on this review.

Of the categories for which this film is nominated, these are the ones for which it deserves to win.

None. GKS votes “nyet”.

Basic flaws in the film: no character development. No story arc. No protagonist. No joy. As such, it is in good company (see: my blog entry for more on this topic).

Let’s start with the story. Here’s what IMDB has to say:

“Years ago, a powerful Irish mafia figure placed a small selection of his youngest, brightest men into the Massachusetts Police Academy as cadets. Their purpose is to eventually rise within the prestigious ranks of the city’s police department, to serve as the eyes and ears of their boss. While somewhere else, a young cadet was assigned with an equally dangerous task: infiltrate the Irish syndicate headed by the man sending in his own to the Boston Police. Now, one cadet is an up and coming police official with a torn allegiance to his job and to the criminal mastermind that put him there. While the other cadet is the trusted number two of that man, only finding his professional duties are becoming blurred with his current state. But new clues have lead to unfortunate discoveries, when both sides realize they’re being watched by the enemy. It’s now all just a matter of time before the men assigned to find out whose the infiltrator, could come to a bloody end when someone’s identity may be revealed.”

Okay. That sounds kind of interesting, right? Sounds is the operative word here, because, painfully, it isn’t

Quick review: Among other things, good stories have a protagonist, antagonist(s), conflict, a story arc, and a resolution.

Strikes 1, 2 and 3 for “The Departed”.

Protagonist? No. We do have 2 main characters, played well by Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio, but neither really evokes sympathy, or a desire by the audience for them to succeed. We watch them wade through their horrors, but don’t really feel invested in whether they succeed or not. Strike 1.

Antagonists? Plenty of those. In fact, everyone in the movie, except perhaps the characters played by Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and (wonderfully) by Alec Baldwin, qualify. The qualify in the sense that: we don’t give a damn when/if they die (they all do), and they are opposed to whatever the non-existent protagonist is trying to do. Ball 1.

Conflict? Ohmigod, plenty of that. Sadly the conflict is monotonic through the entire movie: bad mafia guys want to kill other mafia guys, and any infiltrators in their midst. Cops want to get bad mafia guys, and any infiltrators in their midst. And they go about the killing part for 151 minutes. Still, it’s conflict. Ball 2, just off the plate.

Story arc? Here’s where the movie comes of its rails. The characters go nowhere. Until they die (and they all do), they end as they started. Matt Damon — just trying to survive. Leo — conflicted, trying to do good, and trying to survive. Jack Nicholson – evil, and trying to survive. This story takes you nowhere on the journeys of their lives. It just reports what happened, kind of like the news, and not much like a great motion picture. Strike 2, right down the middle.

The resolution: everyone dies. Does this mean our protagonist succeeds? Fails? Even supposing there was a protagonist (there wasn’t) we can’t know. We don’t know where anyone is trying to go, or why. They just do what they do until they die (and they all die). This is a somewhat subtle point, but it kills a movie that for 149 minutes is going nowhere, and in the final 2 minutes ends up exactly where it started. Sorry, strike 3, you’re out.

Let me ask you, after “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, “Taxi Driver”, this …. this is Martin Scorcese’s big chance to win an Oscar for Best Director? You gotta be kidding.

Mark Wahlberg as Best Supporting Actor? Perhaps. He wasn’t bad. He had really good dialog and he delivered it in exactly the same manner, consistently, through the movie. He stood out because he added a bit of levity to an otherwise joyless film. Still, it would have been nice to see some evolution in his character. Some thought-process. Some range.

Editing? How can any movie that is 151 minutes long win for Best Editing? Come on. (And yeah, I know “Dances with Wolves” did. Doesn’t that strengthen my case?)

Best Motion Picture of the Year? Waaaaaaayyyyyy too flawed, really, to even deserve a nomination.

Adapted Screenplay? Dude, the adapted story lacks the basic tenets of good storytelling. Go watch “Goodfellas” as see how Scorcese got it right, once upon a time.

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