Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Marty vs. Clint: Round Two

Deja vu --wasn't it just two years ago when we had a Martin Scorsese movie and a Clint Eastwood picture arriving within weeks of each other, fighting it out for critical kudos and audience dollars? The big difference this time is that it's October instead of December and neither movie, due to genre in the first case and quality in the second, is as red carpet friendly.

Before I get to The Departed I feel it necessary to restate, quickly, that I am firmly pro Aviator. So, I’m not sure (entirely) what this current fuss is about --this general consensus that the acclaimed auteur has finally ‘recovered’. It’s as if he’s been dropping embarrassing stink bombs for years. I didn't like Gangs of New York (messy, overlong, hit and miss acting) but Marty made The Aviator just two years ago. That was a wonderfully glitzy, gorgeous and crackling movie with strong performances. While it may be true that this auteur’s best films are behind him, whose aren’t? –-I mean as far as iconic filmmakers of the 70s go.

I don’t love Scorsese's new pic quite as much as I loved The Aviator but that’s a taste statement rather than a qualitative one. Give me a choice between two equally well made pictures: one is about glamourous Hollywood types and the other is about foul-mouthed criminals on both sides of the law. Which one you think I’m gonna grab at lustfully?

Aside from a little late film fatigue, I was thoroughly entertained by The Departed . It's a pretty faithful redo of another good picture, Infernal Affairs but I liked it more. It was easier to follow (maybe because I’d seen the original?) and the small shifts in story made it more of an ensemble piece. And oh how they ensemble! Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio all relish the opportunity to get a little bloody for Marty. I don’t think the new film has solved the problem of this story’s lone female character (what is this psychiatrist thinking?) but Vera Farmiga works hard to make some sense of her. And here’s a neat little twist of pleasure: the film is overloaded with deadly competitive character agendas but you won’t see a more superb example of cohesive ensemble acting.

Scorsese can justifiably take another bow though we should send some credit to the screenplay which has balls of steel –I’m not sure that it’s completely graceful in its relentless forward motion but it’s easy to see why the audience gets so high on the third (fourth?) act developments. I wouldn't call it twisty exactly. After all, it’s only a shocking movie because most Hollywood storytelling is so wallflower shy. This one has personality, kick and bite. B+

*

thoughts on Flags of Our Fathers tomorrow...

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with every word. Really liked The Aviator. Really like this.

Yay.

Rob

Carlinhos Brown said...

exactly, not the best film of the year, but a very strong one.

my rating **** (*****)

JA said...

I thought The Aviator was a gorgeous film with some very good acting, but Dicaprio just wasn't doing it for me there, and that kinda ruined the movie for me. He felt totally out of place.

But strangely - strangely because I think Leo usually suffers from Little Boy Syndrome and I can never fully buy him as an adult - I bought him in The Departed as a foul-mouthed criminal-type much easier than I did as the rich playboy which is probably closer to who he really is. In fact, I thought his work in The Departed may just be the best work he's ever done. About 3/4 of the way through the film I realized that something that's never really happened when I watch him was happening here - I stopped thinking every time he appeared onscreen, "That's Leonardo Dicaprio."

I hear ya on the psychiatrist role - Farmiga does do a good job filling in some enormous holes in character, though.

Most of my bitterness about Marty came from Gangs of NY, anyway, which I reeeeeally hated. And then there was more hype for The Aviator then I really thought it deserved (except for Blanchett, whom I adored), and that further annoyed me. So to have him making a solid hard-ass movie again just made me suprisingly happy.

adam k. said...

Nice write-up, Nathaniel.

So do you think Marty will get nominated for this? I think all the hype about his "return to form" is about genre more than anything else... he's finally making hardass crime pictures again, and doing it well. That of course is what Marty fanatics love. To many, great Scorcese crime movie > great Scorcese Hollywood movie (automatically)... at least that's how it seems to me.

But all the critical love and box office hit status can't really be ignored, can it? This will surely pass Aviator's box office total and become Marty's biggest hit ever.

Witchiepooh said...

Good review as always, Nathaniel... I gotta see this.

I'm also a fan of The Aviator ... actually think it should have won BP among the nominees.

Kamikaze Camel said...

A lot of the people saying The Departed is Scorsese's return to form are people who think directors should make similar movies their entire career. Like, so what - he made a few big budget historical epics (I haven't seen Kundun, hated Gangs, loved Aviator). It's called growth. If Scorsese kept making gangsta flicks we wouldn't have some of his best - The Age of Innocence and King of Comedy in particular. Ugh.

That being said, I liked The Departed. Not as much as most people it seems. It was a bit too long, Matt Damon was a big weak link, and it wasn't as visually exciting (but the original was set in Hong Kong so it's already disadvantaged there).

But... yeah. Still good though. I gave it a B.

adam k. said...

Wow, has anyone noticed via this Departed poster here how similar Leo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson look? Maybe it's just the angles are the same, but they have REALLY similar facial features. The placement of the eyes, nose and mouth, the shape of the whole face... it's kind of uncanny. Maybe Leo will do okay after all... he may always look like a little boy, but when he's old, he can just convert it to that "Jack" impishness.

david m said...

The Departed is a B movie for me too.

It's very professionally put together and has a solid ensemble cast, but there's nothing fresh about it, it lags towards the end, and I haven't given it much thought since leaving the theatre.

Scorsese should have won for Goodfellas. Giving him an Oscar for this would be a further injustice.

Good post Nathaniel.

daveylow said...

I'm happy for Scorsese that this film is such a big hit. I really enjoyed it and if I hadn't seen Infernal Affairs, I might have thought it was fantastic. I agree it deserves a B+/A- grade for the acting and screenplay alone.

I too like The Aviator and hated GONY. I'm glad Marty does other things besides gangster/crime films--I'm thrilled he made Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, New York, New York, Kundun, The Age of Innocence, After Hours, The Last Waltz, the Dylan documentary, in addition to his beloved Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Mean Streets. I wasn't crazy about The Color of Money, Casino or King of Comedy but so what? Still haven't watched Last Temptation--I never seem to be in the mood.

Though he should have gotten an Oscar long ago, I would not be unhappy if he won one for this. It's way overdue.

Arden said...

I'm glad you liked it. I did too. And I got a lot of flak about it yesterday from the film nerd mafia.

Marcelo said...

Great review. Congrats.

As usual, I agree with the witchiepooh, The Aviator was the best among the film nominees that year.