Quick moment of housecleaning: I didn’t mention this in the last post, but I probably should have: I’m spending so much time on The Departed because it’s loosely inspired by Whitey Bulger. The looseness of that inspiration will be the subject of a forthcoming entry.
This entry is going to be a list of problems with the movie itself. It’s a mildly irksome irony that while Martin Scorsese’s catalogue contains three of the greatest movies ever made, he received a best picture Oscar for a movie that’s merely pretty good. I outlined the biggest problem with the movie—that it’s two different movies competing for space—earlier. Now I’d like to look at some smaller problems.
- Why does Di Caprio’s cousin disappear after being set up as a seeming main character? Wouldn’t it make sense to keep him around for a while, as he’s the only guy in Nicholson’s gang close to Di Caprio’s age range?
- Despite Leonardo Di Caprio’s compelling performance, I have no idea what his character is supposed to be all about. Is he a violent guy, like Martin Sheen says in their first scene? Then why is he introduced in an otherwise stellar cop academy montage as a goodie two-shoes taking a test?
- Is Vera Farmiga the only psychologist Boston?
- Also: is she the only girl in Boston? And does Matt Damon know that she cheated on him? Does Di Caprio know she’s Damon’s girlfriend? Wouldn’t a confrontation scene have been interesting?
- Isn’t it weird that half of the main characters in the movie get shot within 90 seconds of each other at the end?
- Speaking of character deaths, isn’t Jack Nicholson’s totally anti-climactic?
- And that FBI revelation comes out of left field, right?
- And why would the other dirty cop in the department keep his crime connection a secret from Matt Damon? Couldn’t they have worked together to do stuff?
For the most part, that’s all nitpicky bullshit. It’s a good movie that’s occasionally great. It opens strong, takes on a lot of water and ends with some memorable shocks.
Here’s my biggest issue: the opening scene promises a much different movie than what actually follows. The movie starts with scenes from Boston race riots in the 1960s and a quick historical interview with a black guy who says the racial atmosphere “puts hate in your heart.”
It’s bravura filmmaking in terms of capturing people’s attention, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. There’s one black character in the movie, and he’s in a total of two scenes. The racial clashes of the 1960s are important to Boston, but they’re not at all important to the movie.
It’s a little bit of a cheat, as it implies the movie is going to be drenched in history and issues when the story takes place on a much smaller scale. It not only makes the movie more important than it really is, it makes the movie seem like its more about Boston than it really is, which harkens back to my maxi-criticism of the movie.