Wednesday, October 18, 2006

THE DEPAHTED. Well, that was bracing. Scorsese got a hell of a good script and directed the shit out of it. This is not a bloated obsessional gig like the last couple -- it's a lean mean one, with a crackerjack cast and Ballhaus and Schoonmaker and Shore on deck. You can feel the pleasure of the material in every artist's hand.

Since Scorsese left the old neighborhood, film-wise, his strength in milieu details has become more obvious and admirable to me. I always expected him to catch Little Italy and the Lower East Side -- indeed recognized them in his movies -- but he also showed a similarly obsessive feel for the plug hats, blind tigers, and all-sorts barrels of Gangs of New York, and for the airplane hangars, nightclubs, and richie haunts of The Aviator. Boston gang- and cop-life are equally well-limned here: smoking old moms with oxygen tubes, Southie hood bars and candy stores (even when actually filmed in my own neighborhood), and claustrophobic command centers all have the flavorful stink of life, as does Scorsese's direction of dialogue in those supercharged environments, especially in the tart cursing banter of Alec Baldwin and Marky Mark. They may or may not be true, but they feel just right.

As for the tale, we have two undercover men -- one for the mob, one for the cops -- pursuing parallel missions through the mean streets. What it all amounts to is open to debate. Something attracted Scorsese to the Hong Kong resolution of this Mexican standoff -- tribal blood being thicker than divergent streams of moral water, and all that. Dignam's character is the most interesting element (not to say he's the most interesting character) -- from his harsh reactions to both protagonists, we get the feeling that he has the bone-deepest feeling for the real game, and his resolution confirms it (abetted by a glimpse of a rat scuttling across our view of a gold dome). Is that it, then? All intrigue is equal, and all are punishèd?

There can be no debate on the playing. Nicholson does less Jacking off than usual, which does not muffle his dazzle; what a fine, human villain he makes. Everyone else gets top marks, even Vera Farmiga, if only for struggling gamely through another functionary Scorsese female lead role. We may measure the gap between The Departed and the very highest screen art in the distance between Valli's screen cross at the end of The Third Man and Farmiga's here. But it's still close enough to merit the price of admission.

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