October 6, 2006, - 7:02 am
By Debbie Schlussel
This weekend’s box office releases have the distinction of including two movies that are, respectively, among the best and worst movies of the year. We’ll start with the best:
* “The Departed“–In a novel move for director Martin Scorsese, this is a mob movie. And it’s easily one of the best movies of the year, possibly the best mob movie I’ve ever seen. If you liked “Goodfellas,” you’ll love this.
It’s far better, far smarter, vastly different from any other mob movie, and it’s very original (for the American audience–it’s a remake of “Mou Gaan Dou” a/k/a “Infernal Affairs,” a 2002 Hong Kong thriller). And though it’s extremely bloody and violent, it’s not as disturbing as “Goodfellas.” The movie is thrilling and nail-biting at every step of the way, and unlike most Hollywood fare these days, it’s completely unpredictable. Highly entertaining.
Think “The Prince and the Pauper” meet “Goodfellas.” Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a Massachusetts State Trooper who has infiltrated the Irish Mafia run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Matt Damon is Colin Sullivan, Costello’s operative who has infiltrated the Massachusetts State Trooper’s Office of Special Investigations. Both sides know they have a mole, and both sides, as well as Costigan and Sullivan, are trying to find their respective moles, before the mole kills them.
An interesting and very real sub-plot: the mobsters are working with the Chinese, trying to sell them stolen microprocessors, which can be used to launch missiles against America, Taiwan, and who knows what other countries. And, Sopranos-style, there’s even a love interest psychiatrist in “The Departed,” though her role is far different that that of the shrink on the HBO mob series.
DiCaprio is clearly the star in this movie as the conflicted good guy who must maim and bully–mafia style–to make his cover believable. I would not be surprised if he gets an Academy Award nomination.
Also good is co-star Mark Wahlberg, as Sgt. Dignam, who overseas the undercover informant. Although the former Calvin Klein underwear model has become a really effective actor, with this and a very touching turn as Vince Papale in “Invincible,” I feel bad praising his acting skills or anything about him. Reader “bhmildy” correctly informed me that, when he was 16, this thug, Wahlberg, attacked two Vietnamese people and gouged out one of their eyes with a meathook, while robbing them.) He’s a violent thug and it’s sad that he’s attached to such a good project. It gives me mixed feelings about recommending it.
Lots of good lines in this film, but the best, in my view, is this one uttered by Wahlberg to an FBI agent:
My view of Feds is they’re like mushrooms. Feed ‘em sh-t and keep ‘em in the dark.
(Not my view of the hard-working rank and file federal agents, just their desk-jockey superiors who sabotage their efforts.)
An underlying theme in the movie, encapsulated by that comment, is that the FBI and other federal agencies often work against local and state law enforcement to muck things up, not make them better. (I’ve noted this problem, which is significant in the war on terror, most notably between the very effective NYPD and highly incompetent FBI.)
If there are any faults besides the blood (which is necessary to the plot and storyline of this film), the film is two-and-a-half-hours long. But it flies by as if it were half that time. Also, the South Boston accents are not accurate, and the actors seem to fall in and out of them. All except thug Wahlberg, who is a genuine Southie from Dorchester, Mass. (I know the accent well, from the days when I worked at a Boston law firm representing NHL players, and my excellent assistant, Barbara Fitzgerald, was a brilliant product of the Southie projects.)
Several in the movie audience at a Forbes Magazine screening I attended hissed at some of the stereotypical statements about the Irish uttered by Irish characters in the movie. And who can blame them? Then, there’s the cast of annoying liberal celebs who spout off unsolicited in real life–Martin Sheen (who does well here), Alec Baldwin, and DiCaprio.
Baldwin’s character makes the statement: “The Patriot Act. I love it, I love it, I love it.” But the scene in which he says that makes clear that the Patriot Act is actually needed and helpful even in organized crime investigations, as the Troopers are surveilling a mob interaction with the Chinese.
For those readers who’ve criticized me for praising a mob movie, the ending in this one is satisfying, from a law enforcement and justice perspective–and a moviegoer’s. I think the many law enforcement professionals who read this site will enjoy this movie, as will most of my other readers.
An extended trailer is on the movie’s official website, though even the scenes in the trailer don’t capture the genius and thrill of this great film.
* “Employee of the Month“–One of the worst movies of the year. Note to the wise moviegoer: If it has the name Jessica Simpson in the cast, skip it. (In her last on-screen turn, last year, the talentless beauty also co-starred in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” one of my picks for Worst Movies of 2005.)
Here’s the “plot” (if it can be called that). A loser “box boy” (stocker) employee (Dane Cook) of a Costco/Sam’s Club style store (“Super Club”) vies with a goodie-goodie employee (Dax Shepard) to become Employee of the Month. The reason: the rumor is that new cashier (Simpson) sleeps with the Employee of the Month.
It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it ain’t funny. Just dumb. Don’t waste almost two hours of your life on this clunker (and I’m being kind by calling it that).
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