Thirty years later, Scorsese has made one of the best films of 1970’s American cinema, perhaps the best. There’s so much to say here it could fill a book, and probably will. Just a few amateur observations from a dilettante, then.
– Interesting that in order to achieve the perfect amalgam of his longtime themes and preoccupations, it was necessary for Scorsese to go to Boston. Did the alienation effect of being on unfamiliar territory help him tune the film’s formulae with greater accuracy because he didn’t have to worry about micromanaging the block-by-block details of Little Italy? (I know he’s gone to Vegas for mafia pictures before, but as far as the mob is concerned, isn’t Vegas just the sixth borough?)
– The breakthrough moment in the film for me — the clip they’ll show in film history classes — is when the two rats, Damon and DiCaprio, are stalking each other through Chinatown. As in, of course, Chinatown. Who even knew Boston had one? But it had to have one, because Scorsese had to give Nicholson a chance to be the all-knowing evil genius Noah Cross instead of the chump “Mr. Gitts.” Too bad Scorsese chickens out and lets good triumph. Perhaps it takes a decadent European like Polanski to really see these things through properly.
– The final and transcendent genius of this movie is that like Polanski’s film, The Departed manages to be both an exemplar of a genre (in this case, the mob picture, in Polanski’s the private dick picture) and a commentary on that genre. (Eastwood’s western/metawestern Unforgiven is another good example.) The people who seem to be on the side of virtue are either corrupt or ineffectual, and the people who seem to be on the side of depravity are hugely seductive and, in fact, on the side of depravity; but beyond that, the intricate but wholly plausible plot demonstrates that there is, in fact, no difference between those who seem to be here and those who seem to be there. I’m putting this badly. The point is that as the characters begin to cross and double-cross not only each other but themselves, the distinction between good guys and bad guys vanishes. Everyone is not only deluded but self-deluded, and pretty much clueless as to why he’s doing what he’s doing.
– Alec Baldwin is an effing comic genius. Matt Damon is second to the firing squad after his pal Ben Affleck. I want so very much to hate Leonardo DeCaprio and don’t understand why I can’t.
– There is one female character with more than two lines in this entire picture, and she’s an idiot. This probably shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. The movie’s set in the present day. Would it have killed Scorsese to have there be a female cop? They do exist, you know.
– Cell phones are the oil slick in the Cuyahoga of narrativity, and I personally can’t wait for the purging fire. I didn’t count how many plot points in The Departed pivot on cell phones, but I do know it’s way too effing many.
– It’s a great achievement, an apotheosis, and I’m glad they finally gave Scorsese his golden dildo. But you know, I gotta say that I’d rather watch Mean Streets again. There’s something so cooked about this picture. Not a single hair out of place. The irony’s not lost on me: Scorsese, in the full flower of his mastery, is now making perfect, seamless pictures about the imperfections and seaminess of human nature. I wish he’d let a bit of madness back in.