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Friday, October 06, 2006

The Departed 

The first thing you notice about The Departed is what a departure it is for Martin Scorsese. Perhaps the best living American filmmaker, Scorsese often tells his tales like a biographer. We approach the main character through a stretch of his life, sometimes most of it (Goodfellas), sometimes just a piece (The Aviator). “Story” isn’t the point so much as stories; call them a string of anecdotes from fascinating people, talking about their fascinating lives. Even Gangs of New York, with its nominal revenge arc, was more about the time and place and the movements of its titular proto-governments than it was about a conventional story. The Departed is different. It’s a narrative, almost conventional in its arrangement of people and the arcs of their lives and entanglements with one another.

The second thing you notice about The Departed is that it’s funny. Savagely funny. But then, it may be hard to avoid that when you cast Jack Nicholson as the primary villain, Frank Costello. That kind of corrupt humor — or is that humorous corruption? — is Nicholson’s forté, and it’s never been put to better use than here. It is a surprise nonetheless. Scorsese’s films have become increasingly serious, to the point of being dour and almost off-putting. Not so here. In keeping with the tone, The Departed’s humor is sharp, jagged, cutting; it’s more Bill Hicks than Robin Williams.

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