Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Departed

Movie directors are like cooks. Each have their favourite ingredients. There are those who take their time to make their first decent dal tadka, after which they master it to perfection and serve it every time a guest desires a hearty meal. There are those who start off with a splendid serving of paneer butter masala, subsequent servings of which leave a poor taste. So they are forced out of their comfort zones. Only a few possess the motivation to master a seven-course meal, even it requires them to lose some of their best years and several customers during the endeavour. However, for everything else they stand to lose, what they never forget are the ingredients that have worked over the years. Martin Scorsese is one such director and “The Departed”, his last offering was the proverbial seven-course meal that took 24 years in the making.

Watching “The Departed” is like nostalgia trip for any Scorsese fan. The celebrated director picked up a script that had worked earlier, a 2002 Hong Kong crime flick “Infernal Affairs”. He studied the plot like a research scholar, found many areas that could do with some sprucing up, recalled all of his favourite recipes and carefully chose all his ingredients. He conjured up a few newer concoctions with the flair of a druid and laughed his way to his first oscar. It’s pretty interesting studying this directorial odessey which has assumed Homersque proportions in the Hollywood Pantheon.

Like many of Scorsese’s movies, this one has an element of identity crisis among the protagonists. Like in Mean Streets, the protagonists have inherited the life of crime from their respective families. More often than not, they seem ill-equipped to live a life of lies and deceit, but then they go through the motions more as an obligation to their employers. However, unlike in Mean Streets, the lead characters serve the two ends of the spectrum. Instead of a kid who dreamed of growing up to be a mobster, we have two kids who grow up as imposters: One becomes a cop who goes undercover as a gangster, and the other becomes a gangster who goes undercover as a cop.

The movie has its share of organized crime scenes in the grocery, which could have been from Goodfellas. However the characters have come of age vis-à-vis the early 90’s counterparts, well-versed with the nuances of technology used in computers and mobile phones. And these devices have been deftly incorporated in the plot, adding to the chaos that comes with being a trader in loyalties between the cops and the mob. The traps and betrayals are well summarized in this one scene where a character says to one of the moles, “I gave you the wrong address. But you went to the right one.”

Another of Scorsese’s trademarks is to get the best out of a high profile cast, be it Goodfellas, Gangs of New York or even The Colour of Money. Marty pulls it off again in “The Departed” with consummate ease. In Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio as the two moles, the prospect of a Jason Bourne-Frank Abignale dogfight is highly anticipated and it lives up to your expectations. Both actors convey this agonizing inner conflict so that we can sense and feel it, but not see it. Jack Nicholson plays his meanest self since Joker in Batman. He commits obscene acts and speaks in cynical taunts, but his poise doesn’t waver till the very end. . His is a character that is slowly losing his mind much like Travis in Taxidriver, and while he is a goofy old man when he wants to be, he is also very, very menacing. His virtuoso swearing with more than liberal doses of philosophy can at best be described as – eloquence in profanity.

Scene at restaurant:
Costigan( Leo DiCaprio): Frank, how many of these guys have been with you long enough to be disgruntled, huh? Think about it. You don't pay much, you know. It's almost a fuckin' feudal enterprise. The question is, and this is the only question, who thinks that they can do what you do better than you?
Costello(Jack Nicholson): The only one that can do what I do is me. Lot of people had to die for me to be me. You wanna be me?
Costigan: I probably could be you, yeah. Yeah, I know that much. But I don't wanna be you, Frank. I don't wanna be you
Costello: Heavy lies the crown... sort of thing.

Scene at his pub:
Costello: Who let this IRA motherfucker in my bar?
[the man looks startled]
Costello: [laughs] Only kidding. How's your mother?
Man in Costello's Bar: Oh... I'm afraid she's on her way out.
Costello: [walks away] We all are. Act accordingly.

There definitely has to be a mention of Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Ray Winstone who had their share of memorable scenes.

Also there’s the background score, with Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones & Allman Brothers band among others, very reminiscent of Mean Streets again.

And most importantly there is a moral, which eventually emerges out after a very circuitous path throughout the movie. One cannot overlook his conscience while living one big lie. Gradually, your conscience does grip your neck and wrestles you into submission. Irrespective of your motives, you could be a cop or a criminal, when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?

This movie cannot be missed for the world, but then would you take the word of a die-hard Scorsese fan?


Anonymous said...

Ah, you remember sitting at Planet Cafe with Shrayan baby and discussing our fave directors, after that quiz? :)

Brought back memories this post, Pai-rate!

miss you!

Sudhir Pai said...


That was the day you Srayan and I were introduced to each other.[:)]
We'd only seen each other in quizzes till you introduced us.

ha ha ha!