Friday, February 23, 2007

good pictures #3

the departed- i have seen 10 of martin scorsese's 22 directed features listed in the moviehound guide, and this is his best work since 'goodfellas' [my vote for his masterpiece]. 'the departed' is not only a very good gangster movie, it is one of the most talked about of the five nominees for this year's very wild card best picture.
scorsese does gangsters better than any other director in cinema history, and after the disappointing 'aviator', it's nice to see he's still as good as ever. dicaprio, one of the best in the new generation of actors, is up for an oscar from 'blood diamond', but his work here as the very undercover cop is strong. balance him with the evil jack nicholson [improving and having a good time of it], the corrupt matt damon, fast-talking and cynical mark wahlberg, and martin sheen as the closest thing to a moral center and you've got a heck of a cast. and a fair amount of blood.
after 'babel's global story, i felt that the best 'the departed' could be is a really good gangster movie. actually, it's a really, really good gangster movie. 'goodfellas' was fun to watch. it has a strong moral at it's core, but he told it in a very enjoyable way. 'the aviator' lacked any sort of fun. it's time to enjoy the movies again. new york italians have been replaced by boston irish, but after the 17-minute set up for the movie, the opening titles rolled as the camera floated through the running stories to and the rolling stones blared--i couldn't help but think, 'it's fun when a scorsese movie gets going.'
'goodfellas' was an insider's story of the mob, the ups and the downs. i get the feeling that some of the guys in costello's group could tell the same story. this time, though, we're not on the inside, but caught in the middle, with just enough knowledge about each side to be excited and still nervous. there's a mole in the gang, but also a mole in the police. that alone is an interesting formula, and when it's thrown around and mixed in different scenarios, you get a good story. at times it can be just confusing, remembering who's lying to who about what and who does know something, but just enough that you can still keep it straight and enjoy the challenge of a layered plot.
along with the moving camera, scorsese's auteur trademark's are integrated music and violence, and both come through here. music is constantly starting and stopping with the action and drama, ranging from classical opera to the irish punk of the dropkick murphys' 'i'm shipping up to boston', the signature song of the movie. holding more testosterone than the great lounge songs of 'goodfellas', the music can be as tough as the gangsters.
no one really does violence like martin scorsese. his shots, the staging and style, all carry the indelible mark of the artist--nothing carries scorsese's signature more clearly that the way he shows the sudden burst of rage between thugs. perhaps it's because he does not glorify it. it is intriguing to the story, but it's never a brawl or shoot out you want to be involved in. when leo attacks a pair of goons in a diner, we cringe. gun fights feel dangerous, because here the bullets actually seem to pierce and kill people, not just knock them down [and extra nod goes to the sound designers for the subtle effects, too].

it's a good story, told by one of the masters at full force. scorsese described it as his 'b-movie', and perhap it is, in genre. in skill, it is an a-movie all the way. editing and cinematography do what they should do, remain invisible in telling the director's story, yet there are moment where both elements step forward like a jazz soloist, to have some fun and show us what they can do. everything works here. if you like scorsese, like gangster movies, this is about as good as it gets.
---even better than i expected---

the best picture battle here is between 'babel' and 'the departed'--they are the two strongest movies out. but a 'little miss sunshine' has a good chance, too. or maybe 'the queen'. and i haven't even seen 'letters from iwo jima'. it's going to be fun to watch the awards.
who do i want to win? and who do i think should win? 'babel', no questions.
who do i think will win? no idea.

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