10 Years: “The Departed”

As much as I despise remakes of films, I keep forgetting that every so often, which is really every few years, there is one that’s quite good and worth people’s time. The fact that there’s even one remake that can prove the rule wrong is great, but it makes me wonder how there aren’t more? At the same time, I think I’m glad not many have thought of this approach. There’s enough remakes as is, why do we need even more?

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “The Departed”, is an intricate and deep game of cat and mouse that never fails to captivate.

This crime drama stars Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”, “The Audition (Short 2015)”), Matt Damon (upcoming “The Great Wall”, “Jason Bourne”), Jack Nicholson (“How Do You Know”, “I’m Still Here”), Mark Wahlberg (upcoming “Patriots Day”, “Deepwater Horizon”), Martin Sheen (upcoming “Rules Don’t Apply”, “The Vessel”), Ray Winstone (“Of Kings and Profits”, “The Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells”), Vera Farmiga (upcoming “The Escape (Short 2016)”, “The Conjuring 2”), Anthony Anderson (upcoming episodes “Black-ish”, “Barbershop: The Next Cut”), and Alec Baldwin (upcoming “Rules Don’t Apply”, “Saturday Night Live”).

The film was directed by Martin Scorsese (upcoming “Silence”, “Vinyl”) and written by William Monahan (“Mojave”, “The Gambler (2014)”). It is based on the Chinese film “Infernal Affairs” written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong.

The film originally opened on Oct. 6, 2006. It would go on to be nominated for five Academy Awards; winning four, six Golden Globe Awards; winning one, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards among numerous nominations and wins.

WOW! How I’ve missed this film. I remember when I first saw it, I instantly loved it! It was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. Fast forward about 10 years (depending on when I saw it, which was probably some time in mid-2007) and I wish I’d watched it again sooner. This film, like so many others, is one I haven’t seen I some time. For all I know, this is the second time I’ve seen this film. It’s what happens when you watch so many films in any given year, or when you constantly add to your collection. Now that I have, I’m once again reminded of why I like this film. Films from 2006 are really reminding me of why I need to watch some films a lot sooner than a decade later.

If I didn’t wait so long, I would’ve seen the brilliance of this character driven drama. Let me try to explain a bit more. It’s evident that this film is character driven, but then again, so are so many others, but I feel that this film does something different. It’s not propelled by the plot and only has character’s reacting. This film really seemed to be driven by everything the character’s did or thought about, as focusing somewhat on their pasts was important. Then, due to an event one or more went through, all in the hopes of achieving the endgame set out by the general premise of the film, the story and audience were both able to move forward. Organically. One thing affected the other and dictated what happened next. Sure some moments were thrilling by design and execution, but this just brought a whole new level of tension and fun as you couldn’t help but wonder what would happen next. Anything and everything was on the table, and could change at any moment.

Bringing this character driven film to life, other than the writer and director, both of whom did amazing work, is the cast! All those names you recognize, but wish you could see more of. No, seriously, most of these actors don’t have much lined up for the next few months, well, at least that’s worth watching. Anyway, these characters and actors are phenomenal. Sure in so many ways you didn’t learn a lot about each and every one, but that was okay. The film was only deeply about DiCaprio and Damon, and their relationships to Nicholson and Sheen. Setting that aside for a moment, the bits you did learn about Wahlberg, Baldwin, Sheen, and Farmiga, for instance, were focused on their commitment to the work they do. It’s not just a job, nor does this case happen to be the most important case, which just happens to be the one we’re tuning in to. No, they understand the sacrifice they must make and all the complexities needed to do the job right. All of these moments were brought to life by deep, almost incredibly nuanced performances, and the film and audience is better served because of this.

DiCaprio and Damon, opposite sides of the same coin. No, really, they pretty much are. Each is on an opposite of right and wrong, each is a mole, and each has to contend with, in so many ways, the moral questions that arise along the way, not to mention just accept that what occurs and what they see. It’s a tough task, and while DiCaprio seems to have a much harder time with it, you’re given a pretty good insight into who he is. There’s no need for an imagination. Damon, on the other hand, just has to stay ahead and do what he thinks is best for Nicholson, or what he’s told. He’s out for himself and this is also fascinating to see. When I was watching this film I realized that seeing both sides, even when it was watching Nicholson and Winstone, and their cronies, or any of the police task force meetings, was giving a deep view into how each side operates. It seems rare to get this detailed a look. Usually there’s enough information where you can say you’re there and you understand, but this, puts squarely in there. The added benefit, you see how each person, no matter how much time they have onscreen, thinks. So much more important than learning a character’s entire biography.

While my little write up isn’t going to do the proper justice this film deserves, I certainly hope that it inspires confidence. I’m also hoping that it continues to show just how fascinating this film is overall. Every. Single. Bit. One of those fascinating aspects, which could easily be a huge turnoff to some people, especially if they go in even the slightest bit blind, is the length of the film. It may not be as long as some of Scorsese’s other films (one minute shy of three hours) but it’s still quite long. It clocks in at about two hours and 31 minutes. However, it doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s got such a brisk pace that I was surprised when certain moment happened and when it ended. I remembered pretty well how this film played out, which itself presented a slight problem with being surprised again, but I got past it. Still, this film doesn’t feel like some lengthy film, and if you focus yourself just right, you’ll be able to get properly immersed in all that happens.

With remakes, some more well known than others, it’s hard to get it right. When one is more obscure and boasts immense talent, the outlook and bar is much higher. A quality film is almost a given. This film deserves to be seen. It also deserves the acclaim it was given as well as one’s full attention. Mind you, saying that is almost laughable as I was interrupted way more than I wanted to be, but thankfully not my doing. If ever I was happy a film was remade, even if I still haven’t seen the original, it’s with this film. So much was accomplished, largely through a lengthy runtime, that any other filmmaker could’ve easily screwed up, and the film would’ve been a huge waste of time. Thank god for a man who carefully chooses his projects and knows just what to bring to them. If only for a moment, the remake genre had a chance to shine.

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