Monday, December 03, 2012

The Departed

Last night we watched The Departed. The last time I watched this was in 2008 in a rainstorm in Hong Kong, after watching the Infernal Affairs trilogy that it's based on, and back then I knew that the original was the best. Watching it again, 6 years after its original release, and ten years after the original Infernal Affairs, its flaws are even more obvious.

Montages can be acceptable in a film. When the entire film becomes a montage, you give the writers and director less credit, and begin to think they were trying to film any old stuff and hope it would fit together. There's flashback nested in flashback, whole periods of time jumped over via the device of DiCaprio's character exclaiming "I've been doing this for a year" (it takes 15 months, I've calculated, to give a Chinese guy some microchips), and then there's the horrible camera movements...

Early on, Alec Baldwin and Donnie Wahlberg give a briefing to some of the other cops. There are ostentatious whip pans and zooms that settle in on their faces as they utter their lines, then whip pan and zoom on the other face. It looks quite cool until you notice it, and then it just looks like Scorcese was trying to show off. Perhaps, I thought, it shows the viewpoint of the police in the room, their attention yanked this way and that. And then you see exactly the same pan and zoom when Matt Damon and Vera Farmiga are having an argument with nobody watching.

Then there's the constant cutting within scenes. Shot of Matt Damon's face. Cut - to a shot of Matt Damon's face. Cut - to the same angle of Matt Damon's face, but zoomed in just slightly. Was it meant to reflect the psychological problems that beset the characters, or did the editor just have a breakdown?

The music is overbearing: ok, it was omnipresent and not very good in Infernal Affairs, but at least it wasn't incredibly loud and incredibly close all the time.
There's the low quality of men in Boston. It turns out that the standard must be incredibly low, if you're impressed when Matt Damon knows that duck a l'orange is French, and no matter how much of a dick to you he is, you'll still agree to a second date. Maybe it's a lonely life being Vera Farmiga; since Damon's character is called Colin and by extension can't get it up, she then falls for DiCaprio (who seduces her by being an awkwardly aggressive dickhead). I was single the first time I watched The Departed and if I'd been more impressionable I'd have got on a plane straight to Boston, where the women are easy and the men are monstrous lumps.

At least Matt and Leonardo are fairly presentable. There's Jack Nicholson, who looks like he's been sleeping in a hedge. Actually, almost everyone looks like they've been sleeping in the same hedge. Maybe that's why they're so cross. This was in marked contrast to Infernal Affairs, where even the grubbiest cop looks like a pop star (which, usually, they are). Jack chews the scenery with gusto, but again, Eric Tsang was a more interesting choice for the original. A game show host cum master of light entertainment, seeing him as a triad boss was like finding out Michael Barrymore had a dark side.


Anyway, the Infernal Affairs films had the advantage of being longer, so more themes could be explored, like Tsang's reluctant beginnings as a boss in Infernal Affairs 2, or Andy Lau's meltdown in Infernal Affairs 3. The Departed didn't have room for all of that.

Oh, except it was two-and-a-half hours long. Unfortunately, most of that was whip-pans and the Dropkick Murphys yelling about losing a wooden leg in a top sail, again and again and again. It's as though Scorsese was paranoid that you'd confuse this with Goodfellas, and had to keep reminding you it was Baaaastan every five minutes. Why didn't he just have a constantly jigging chorus line of ginger kids in the background of every shot?

Lastly, there's the ending1. It's too neat and too tidy and thinks it has a clever twist that it doesn't realise had already shown up in Layer Cake, and it takes too long to get there, and it's fairly unnecessary anyway because Infernal Affairs didn't need to wrap things up tidily. Infernal Affairs was just mean and cruel like the world should be. Infernal Affairs didn't pretend that the bad guys don't get away with their microchips, or that evil people always get their comeuppance, or that you need to literally have a rat in the last shot to clarify that one of the characters was dishonest and bad.

Or maybe the Hong Kong version just gained something in translation.

1 Logically enough, I suppose.


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