Saturday, January 20, 2007

it reminds me of the movies marty made about new york

as i mentioned a while back, i saw and loved martin scorcese's latest film, the departed.

in this piece in the washington post, stephen hunter speculates that scorcese might win a best director oscar for the departed, but that he doesn't really deserve it for this film, and that if he does win it'll essentially be a career award given under the guise of honoring work on the one film. hunter calls "the departed" the "least scorcesesque" of his films, that it seems like an homage made by a grad student film-maker.

hunter's first reason that it's not scorcesesque? well, it's not set in new york. seriously. that makes it not a marty movie. location. and also? well...'s not set among the Italian American Mafia subculture, and its characters seem by far a cooler lot than Scorsese's typical crew of hotheads and sociopath outsiders who yearn to belong and start killing when they don't. Nor does it have the hypnotic intensity that Scorsese brings to his typical film, that sense of hyper-realism that takes on a nightmarish clarity. It doesn't have Scorsese's old friend and collaborator Robert De Niro (who was off making his own film, "The Good Shepherd"), thus vacating a fat old-guy role for Jack Nicholson, who brought a different and distinctly non-Scorsese tone to the piece.
ok, where to start?

as a parallel example, i'll note that one of my favorte u2 records is zooropa. it is their most un-u2sque record, one reason why i love it so much (not that i don't love the band). they claimed pop would be a departure, but it was a tepid attempt at not being u2 and it ended up being a tepid u2 record. zooropa was just them making a record -- it didn't seem like they were thinking about being or not being u2.

what does this have to do with this review of the departed? well, hunter misses the point about what makes the film so good. it is precisely because scorecese doesn't wallow in stock scorcese-isms that the film works. it's a tight and unnerving story about lies and betrayal and people not being true to themselves, themes that scorcese has gone back to time and time again. i don't agree that it's as clean and striaght-up as hunter claims. moreoever, i defy you to find another director who could have taken the story (adapted from a korean film, infernal affairs) and made it as tense. who else could have gotten such fantastic performances from leonardo dicaprio and matt damon? yes, nicholson was not like de niro would have been in the role of frank costello, and what's wrong with that? why does hunter assume that scorecese must have de niro as his lead heavy? why can't scorcese move beyond being scorcese and bring different actors into his orbit?

does the departed deserve an oscar? well, the director's guild nominees are usually a good place to look at for the director's oscar, and for the dga award scorcese is up against the directors of babel, little miss sunshine, the queen and dreamgirls. i can't imagine that in a field so diverse (assuming the oscar list is similar) that a scorcese win would be thought of as cheap. maybe it is a career nod, but it's well deserved for the film in and of itself.

what i get from hunter's review is that he so much likes the scorcese of taxi driver and goodfellas that he can't accept that scorcese can make a good gangester movie without falling back on personal cliche. like the u2 who made zooropa didn't seem to be trying to be u2, the scorcese who made the departed seemed unconcerned with being scorcese. he just wanted to make a very good, tense gangster film. and he did.

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