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Forget it Jack, it’s Beantown National Post Friday, October 20, 2006

departedThis week’s film: The Departed

– Craig Courtice, a short filmmaker who isn’t very tall.
– Tracey Lazos, former deputy Arts editor at the Post who now works at the Boston Herald.
– Richard Crouse, host of Rogers Television’s Reel to Real, Canada’s longest-running movie review show, and the author of The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen (ECW Press, 2003). His Web site is www.richardcrouse.ca

This week’s pie Boston cream

This week’s subject The Departed

Craig An open letter to Jack Nicholson: Dear Jack, The Departed was a great film — too bad you missed it. Your performance was so off base I wonder if you even read the script. You took, for example, a wonderfully designed scene in a porno theatre and turned it into an improv blooper from Anger Management. A dildo? Seriously? This isn’t The Witches of Eastwick or Batman, buddy. You’re supposed to become the character, not a caricature. All I could think of after watching this was “Was Brian Cox too busy to play this part?” Because if he had played this Irish crime boss, he would have paid the same attention to craft that Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio did to their roles.
Those two were revelations, as was Mark Wahlberg. Honestly, if Marky Mark is out-acting you, don’t you think it’s time to devote yourself full-time to something you’re actually passionate about — after all, the Lakers should be pretty good this year.

Tracey You’d think that Nicholson, finally getting to work with Scorsese, would have thought to himself, “Now here’s a chance to do something really important.” Instead, he devours a big plateful of ham and lets his hair do all the acting. But I didn’t think his performance was as egregious as you did, Craig — the guy can still command a scene, and you have to admit, he was menacingly hilarious at times and a pretty scary villain. I wouldn’t want to run into him in Southie. The one thing he failed to bring to this movie that the other players contributed in huge dollops of Boston cream was class. Damon as the smooth-talking rat was a standout for me. That guy has cornered the market on duplicitous nasties you still want to take home to meet your mum.
But back to Jack. The Boston media is in a huge tizzy over the fact that Nicholson appears to channel Beantown’s most obsessed-over mobster-cum-fugitive, Whitey Bulger. Methinks they need to get out more.

Richard I’m with you Tracey. Nicholson’s performance is kind of cockamamie, but it shows that the old coot can still blow younger, prettier actors off the screen. His Costello is a modern day King Lear, an autocrat very much aware of his importance in the world and who uses that knowledge as a licence to behave badly. He’s at least partly crazy, but he’s no Boob McNutt. His madness is used like a parlour trick to unbalance those around him. Like Lear, it appears Costello made the decision to go 5150 to preserve command over his own life and the lives of those around him. The dildo and eating-the-fly scenes are ridiculous, but they are ridiculous on a grand scale. They show Costello’s volatility. I thought Nicholson’s blazing eyes captured that unhinged quality really well. There is a reason why some people are legends and in The Departed we are reminded why Nicholson is acting royalty.

Craig There’s no doubt Nicholson could act — in the ’70s. But now he seems content with shtick rather than the nuance he brought to films like Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown. Heck, if you really want to see what Nicholson is capable of you don’t even have to go back that far; The Pledge (2001) represents some of his finest work. There is a reason this guy has won three Oscars.
And speaking of Oscars, will The Departed finally win Scorsese his? As a huge fan, I’m of two minds on this. First, I think he obviously deserves one, and The Departed is good enough that it wouldn’t be a total sympathy trophy. Marty could also get back to making more artistic pictures like Kundun instead of pandering to the Academy with schlock like The Aviator. On the other hand, while the first 30 minutes of The Departed is the best film I saw this year and the last 30 ain’t half bad either, the middle hour-plus drags. I’m not saying it’s as painful as watching DiCaprio spell out “quarantine” in The Aviator, I’m just saying the whole erectile dysfunction theme was a little limp. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Tracey I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I’m not a Scorsese connoisseur. I mean really not. A quick check of IMDb revealed that I’ve seen exactly four-and-a-half of his films. (I never made it through Raging Bull, but I think that’s because the sound on my rental was horrible.) Perhaps I’m just a big girlie-girl, but I’ve just never had much interest in Scorsese’s mean streets. And I enjoyed The Aviator a lot. (Told you — big girlie-girl.) So I was a bit hesitant about watching The Departed. But I loved this film. I loved that it was at once charming and shocking. I loved the fact that there was an intricate story but I didn’t need to wheel out the Universal Plot Explainer to figure out what the hell was going on. I love that Scorsese left his New York comfort zone, came to Boston and captured it so well — rats and all. Sure, there were a couple of scenes that bordered on farce, but we’ll just go ahead and blame Nicholson for those. I think Scorsese should win an Oscar for this movie, regardless of whether he deserves one for his body of work. But with Clint Eastwood breathing down his neck again with his latest epic, who knows?

Richard It would be a cruel twist worthy of a Paul Haggis script if Eastwood beat Scorsese again this year. I was weaned on Scorsese — one of my earliest film memories is sneaking into Boxcar Bertha when I was nine — and as much as I admired his last couple of movies, I didn’t love them, and Scorsese is the kind of filmmaker who should inspire fanatical praise. The last two were handsome, big-budget epics but it felt like he was making movies to please Academy voters and not himself. The Departed is a departure from those sleek studio efforts and places the director firmly back where he belongs — on the mean streets surrounded by gangsters, duplicity and violence. He’s comfortable there among the sleazoids and crazies, and it is that comfort level, and not the sympathy vote, that will earn him at least a best director nomination if not a win. The Departed is Scorsese in top form — effortless, (although I’d guess he watched Pulp Fiction a time or two during production) and brutally cool.
© National Post 2006

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