There’s exactly one thing I would change about Martin Scorsese’s The Departed: the last thirty seconds or so. The rat on the balcony railing. To me, at least, it felt like an insulting wink to the audience: “This is what the movie’s been about. Get it? Get it?”
I probably found it more insulting because the rest of the film is nearly perfect: the casting, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the choice of music. I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs, the original Korean movie that Scorsese’s film is based on, so I won’t say anything about remakes at this point, except for this: if a remake is this good, what does it matter that it’s a remake? That’s a discussion about cultural imperialism, perhaps, but it’s not what I’m interested in here. I’m interested in what may be Scorsese’s most enjoyable movie ever.
Of course, there were lots of people who complained when Scorsese was awarded the Oscar for this film, and indeed, he should’ve received the Academy Award for some of his earlier work too. But what gets up my nose is that most of those who complained felt that The Departed is somehow less good a movie because it isn’t deep – and by deep they mean existential, or perhaps they mean, “If you can enjoy it, if you can have fun watching it, chances are it isn’t that good.” Which is silly, pretentious snobism. I don’t want every single one of Scorsese’s movies to be Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. True, these films have more social depth, they’re more tragic, but I hate the knee-jerk equation of ‘tragic’ with ‘good’ or ‘important’. Please note that I also hate the reverse snobism that goes something like this: “Oh, you’re so la-di-dah with your Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman and François Truffaut, elitist gits! Go and jerk off to your boring, black-and-white arthouse bullshit, while I enjoy Die Hard!” Just like I don’t always want The Seventh Seal, I don’t always want Star Wars or The Rock either.
And I appreciate craft. In my opinion, there’s a lot to enjoy about, say, Die Hard, because it’s one of the best crafted films in its genre. There’s a lot to enjoy about the deft lightness of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven remake, just as there is a lot to enjoy in Jules et Jim. The things you’re enjoying are simply very different, but all of these films are by filmmakers who are amazing craftsmen. And quite often it’s genre cinema where you get great examples of the craft: Blade Runner, The Godfather, Out of Sight, Aliens.
And it is in terms of craft that The Departed absolutely excels. From the first few shots in the movie, you know that this was made by people who know what they’re doing. When I saw the film at the cinema, it was the first time that I had an inkling what critics mean when they talk about “muscular filmmaking”. In spite of the clumsy allegorical rat at the very end, I left the cinema energised and wanting to see it again. So, for all those who thought that the film wasn’t ‘deep’ enough, here’s another clip. It expresses quite neatly what I think about arrogance towards genre cinema. Enjoy.
P.S.: I am not saying that all quality is relative; I hope you understand that. As far as I’m concerned, the difference between, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Citizen Kane, or indeed between Raging Bull and The Departed, isn’t one of quality. It’s not that one film is better than the other – it’s the subject matter and its treatment that are different. Arguably one is deeper than the other, but in the end depth is something I can take or leave. Sometimes I want an intricate seven-course meal, and sometimes I want a hamburger… but I want a good hamburger.