I think it's fair to say that most film lovers are sick fed up of remakes, revisualisations, sequels and prequels, and why? Well it's because they are poorly done, they're seen as a way to make quick money off of another successful film. When the projects are started they are usually seen as a ready made film that just needs some quick patches and tweaks to get the film made.
So despite the calibre of the cast and the director, I was still concerned that this was going to be another half arsed effort by Hollywood to take a ready made film and transpose it to the American way, and producing a film that failed miserably to compete with its original.
Martin Scorsese said something before I went to see the film (not to me personally, but on an interview) which made me think that perhaps he could do something different and remake an Asian film which would be very strong and hold up in its own right. He said that Infernal Affairs (review) is steeped in the Asian culture and transposing that into American film just wouldn't work, so he approached it as making an American film from the excellent script he was given.
So it sounded like this could have some potential, and wasn't that an understatement.
First up, as usual, many thanks to Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema who are extremely generous in helping me see the movies for review on Filmstalker. If you haven't been to that cinema then you should, easy to get to, free parking, big screens, great hotdogs, and superb audio. Thanks again to all the staff there.
So it was I sat to a surprisingly busy cinema on Friday afternoon (yes I know, I need to get these written earlier, but you'll understand why I couldn't sometime this week - it's been a busy weekend), and began watching Martin Scorsese's The Departed.
This is, as you must now know, a remake of the Asian film Infernal Affairs, a truly superb film which has two sequels to its trilogy. My mathematics skills are superb. The plot for both Infernal Affairs and The Departed is pretty much identical.
The local crime lord has evaded Police arrest for a very long time, and they're not happy about it at all. In fact they've created a department intent on capturing him and disbanding his gang, not for something minor, but for one of the big deals he's involved in. So surveillance is high and the job has become personal.
Two recruits join this crime unit, one is pulled in to serve with the team, and the other is identified as having the characteristics to work undercover and be accepted by the gang, and so he is recruited to work deep undercover. Only the two at the head of the undercover group will know who he really is while he goes about destroying his career, returning home, and making the connections to join the crime lord's gang.
The other recruit rises high in the ranks of the crime unit, unbeknownst to the Police he's actually a member of the crime lord's gang having been raised and groomed for this very role.
At every turn each mole reports back to their bosses and the crime lord begins to feel the pressure but continues to escape. Before long the two moles realise that the other exists and the fight is on for the crime lord and their identities.
It's a great setup, and in the original it makes for some great scenes, superb high tension sequences, and bags of surprises. What amazed me is how well Departed does the same, and how well Scorsese and William Monahan make it their own story.
The whole film is incredibly well scripted and characterised, that's something that struck me straight away is how natural some of the scenes are spoken and acted, and how realistic the dialogue is. There's humour throughout which feels particularly real, and the connection and banter between characters is fantastic to watch on screen. Without a doubt a huge amount of the power of this film comes from that script.
That's not to say it's all in that script, Scorsese has done a superb job of bringing it to the screen and making it a new and unique tale, despite all the similarities, and there are quite a few. If you've seen the original you'll recognise scenes, dialogue, characters, and entire sequences which are in the first film, but none of them feel like copies. It's like recognising someone you know and it never pulls you out of this telling of the tale. In fact as the film went on I stopped making the associations and it was just after the fact that I looked back on Infernal Affairs.
The film opens with the great Rolling Stones track "Gimmie Shelter" as the crime lord, Frank Costello played by Jack Nicholson walks in darkness introducing us to his world, and from here we leap into a montage of moments which reveal the story of his inside man from his first meeting with the crime lord.
These moments gave me a huge smile, in fact it was the very opening scene with Nicholson in darkness and how he's only fully revealed at the end of the montage with the soon to be immortal quote "When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals. What I'm saying is this: When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?" It sent a chill through me and made me remember why I love the cinema so much. There's so much power and setup in those short moments and it puts you just in the right place for the rest of the movie.
There's another sequence in the film which caught me, and it's something taken from the original which also carries similar power. As the two moles talk to each other on mobile phones for the first time you can feel all the tension and power built from the start of the film boil up to bursting point, and the simple frames of each character, swapping back and forth in silence, is perhaps some of the most uncomfortable scenes in a thriller.
This continues on to the scenes where they finally meet, and that moment gave me a feeling I often only get in horror films, that feeling inside where you realise what could happen and you know more than the characters on screen. It was almost a shout out to the character moment! That is the power of the scripting and characterisation mixed with Scorsese's talent.
The visuals are great in the film, and although I felt that there were a few times where the cuts were incredibly tight and I had the feeling of being jerked back and forth through the story, it was a very engaging film which held you tight to the story, kept you on edge throughout, and made you feel for all the characters involved.
That's something else I was surprised about, that such a huge cast all had their places and moments and held up so well together.
Alec Baldwin is, in my mind, a superb screen presence and a great actor, one who can rival all the other big names in this film, and he does. His eager and passionate Policeman is played with a touch of pathos and an underlying strength that comes out in one particular scene when he loses his cool façade. That moment is very powerful and makes you realise what this character is really about. He gives a great performance, and his timing for the moments of humour with Dignam and his team are superb.
It's perhaps Mark Wahlberg who plays Dignam who feels a little out acted here, he's up against the ease of Martin Sheen, and the surprising performances from Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, and there are some scenes where it does look like he's acting. I know that sounds odd when you're watching actors, but that's the feeling you come away with, all the other actors give such strong performances that you're sucked in and you believe them all. There's just something a little too much and too polished about his character.
Martin Sheen is superb, and so easily takes you away from his Presidential character. I thought that would be so hard to do when you've played such a well known and loved character in such a successful and widely seen TV show as he has, but here there wasn't even a hint of the President for me.
I have to say something about Ray Winstone who once again seems to take a sidelined role. It's a shame that he's not considered more of a lead in Hollywood, but his opening scenes are very powerful and he gets to play with his character more than anywhere else in the film. Oh, his final scene is typical Winstone, superb.
Nicholson is the other heavyweight on screen, with Baldwin standing a close second for me, just screen time separating the two. Here Nicholson is strong and powerful throughout, but as the film progresses and the pressure increases we can see some of the Nicholson moments come through, and it helps the character greatly. That unpredictability and manic performance appears through some cracks and before long we're seeing it more and more. I think that's great for the character but there are some moments it doesn't work for me.
One scene is in the adult cinema, that scene just seemed so out of character that it spoiled the importance and impact of the following scenes. Then there was the restaurant conversation with Billy Costigan, played by DiCaprio, which just didn't feel right at the end for me, again too much humour and playing about when he knows he should be playing it hard and unhinged.
Damon plays the character of the crime lord's mole in the Police, and I was surprised at how well he took me into the character and his world of deceit. He seems to have another attempt at his character from The Talented Mr Ripley. Another part which he pulled off so utterly convincingly for me, this is almost like a revisit to that character when he's resolved his inner demons and can pull off the false life with ease.
However, I am saving the best till last. I have to admit that I've never really thought much of DiCaprio, he's just never set me alight with his performances, until now. He is stunning in this film, and his nervous, edgy character of the undercover cop in so deep he doesn't know if he can make it out, is fantastic. Every scene he was in I was drawn to him, even alongside Nicholson he appears to scene steal. He looked almost out of his mind during some scenes, and then when he makes an emotional contact with the psychiatrist Madolyn, played by Vera Farmiga, he becomes controlling and then vulnerable. A superb performance by DiCaprio of a man who seems constantly on the edge of his life, struggling with himself in every scene.
The story is superb, and I have to recommend it. Andy Lau, a star from the original Infernal Affairs had many criticisms of it - too long, too much swearing and the romantic connections of the two Policemen - and I have to say I think he's almost entirely wrong.
The film seems long on paper, but when you're taken into that world you hardly notice the time passing, and looking back I would have loved to have had more time with both men to understand their backgrounds and how their pain and paranoia developed. In fact I would say that I would love to see a sequel for this film.
Swearing? Well I'm sorry but it's a portrayal of real life, and not of some office life, but of gangsters and cops, people on the edge, killing and being shot at day in day out. Stress, death and deceit seem to be the main elements of all of their lives, and in an environment like that I would expect anger, violence, and swearing. Never did it seem too much or out of character for me.
However, I am going to agree on the romantic aspect. To begin with it did feel a bit contrived, but as it plays out the relationship adds some real depth to the characters involved, and their decisions do become more believable and complex because of this. It may be contrived, but perhaps not that unbelievable, particularly when it gets going.
Something that I was concerned about was the ending. In Infernal Affairs it was all fantastically done and held such a punch, here though I was worried that it had been done and if we were going to be treated to the same one. I'm not going to tell you how it ends, obviously, but I have to say it reflects the entirety of the film, it very much is its own film, and this makes it through to the end. Although, this is where another negative appears, the end seems all rather rushed and harassed. It's as though they suddenly realised the time and just wanted to tie everything together nice and neatly. Still, it's a cracker of an ending.
Overall I'd have to say I was very surprised by both the film and some of the performances. DiCaprio positively beams in this film, and he's close to outshining Nicholson. The cast is extremely strong and for the most they are played wonderfully, and both Scorsese and Monahan have done a wonderful job to bring life into this remake, a remake which does the original very proud indeed.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
I haven't seen much for this film as yet, and was surprised to see it here. Perfume is the story of a man born without any sense of smell who develops intense olfaction (the detection of chemicals dissolved in the air), and starts to create perfumes. He takes a dark turn though and begins to murder for the ultimate scent. Here the trailer is presented lovingly and slowly turns dark, quite like the tale described above. It's definitely a teaser for something more though.
Breaking and Entering
I've been hearing great things about this film and seeing the trailer finally pulled it together. The cast looks excellent, and seeing Ray Winstone and Vera Farmiga in there was very surprising since they've both just been in Departed. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella is even more reason to see it. Watch list right now, oh it's already on!
We just saw the full trailer and it looks even better big screen for about the third viewing. After seeing DiCaprio give a stunning performance above I'm really interested to see how he does here, and it looks as though Djimon Hounsou is rightfully getting a big role here.
Oh dear. This gets more and more cheesy with each viewing, although the nose plug comment is funny, the rest is a formulaic cheese filled fest.
Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details