THE WUSSIED

The Oscar to Marty Scorsese as best director for The Departed has the strong whiff of consolation prize; no one with reliable critical discrimination believes he gave his creative all to it. As awards season neared, the media, especially the movie critics, shifted into high gear to propel him as the presumptive winner to make sure he’d finally get due from the Academy. And there’s some ugly truth to the charge that if it didn’t vote for him this time, it would’ve been despicably deliberate. (And better his as best picture instead of that phonied up Babel?) Not unlike the second-ratedness of After Hours, Cape Fear and Casino, The Departed suffers from a lack of Marty’s energized urban menace. Maybe because his script isn’t set in his beloved city jungle and instead in Boston—though mostly filmed in N.Y. to avoid Boston’s taxes—he seems doubtful, looking around corners before proceeding; nothing comes as chilling surprise. In Taxi Driver, we hadn’t any doubt we were in the hands of someone who knew the scary territory. In The Departed, we’re feeling a director’s inexplicable fear of his own celebrated bloodletting—it’s like dulled cutlery, in need of John Woo’s grindstone—and we’re not sure where the hell we really are because, other than the obligatory Irish bagpipe music blasting as reminder, Boston here could be New York, Newark, or Baltimore. With a sigh of audience relief, Jack Nicholson isn’t Jack; in whiskery look, gruffy voice and gesture, he’s doing a presumably loving take-off on Rip Torn. Mark Wahlberg’s highly competent playing an avenger too cocky-smartass for our own enjoyment. Leonardo DiCaprio is sitting in for De Niro, not doing a bad job of it, though this isn’t anywhere near the kind of keenly truncated yet encompassing portrayal he gives in Marty’s The Aviator, or the powerhouse he fired up in Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond. Alec Baldwin isn’t quite enough to be a central draw but he’s the closest in spirit and tone to the Boston milieu, and a lot of viewers would love to know if his face-dunking into a bowl of iced water is a running gag that was cut. And just how much cash is in that blue pencil box Jack gives Matt Damon after he graduates from state trooper academy? Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” is heard a few times, suggesting intentional association, yet we haven’t a clue what it is. Some of us are clueless as to why Marty ever made The Departed, during which there are regrettably heavy emanations of wussiness.

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