Boston, “some years ago”. Two ambitious young men enter the police academy. They’re both from the South Side, Irish and working class and they both have secrets they don’t want spilled. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a mole planted by villain Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) wants to be a real cop but gets recruited by Martin Sheen to go undercover in Costello’s crew.
So we start with two moles (or rats if you prefer) both looking for the other — an all-time great thriller set-up. As it was when Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak first told the story in the Hong Kong sensation Infernal Affairs in 2002. Unfortunately (and comparisons are odious but inevitable) Martin Scorsese’s heavyweight version disappoints when set against the lean Asian original.
Where Infernal Affairs was “tighter than a nun’s nasty”, as my old English teacher used to say, The Departed is flabby. Too much exposition, too much back-story, and the addition of a love triangle with the beautiful shrink (Vera Farmiga) is an unnecessary twist-too-far.
It’s almost as if each of the stars has to carry a whole lot of extra weight that their stardom demands but the picture doesn’t. Nicholson is brilliant and entertaining but how much of his work drives the story along? Not so much.
Despite all these qualms, The Departed is still one of the best films of the year, but do yourself a favour and seek out Infernal Affairs to see a film that feels like it’s re-inventing the medium — like Scorsese’s films used to.
When Kevin Spacey made Beyond The Sea in 2004 he was already eight years older than Bobby Darin was when he died at 36. Luckily for us, Spacey has a sense of humour about it in this easy-going homage to one of the unsung singing heroes of the easy-listening era.
Darin was a poorly child who grew in to a sickly young man. His weak heart drove him to achieve as much as he could in the time allowed and the film paints him as someone who cared more for his career than for the music that gave it to him (which in the case of “Splish-Splash” was probably fair enough).
Robin Williams once called The Walt Disney Company Mouse-schwitz. I introduce that fact only because it is funny, and not because it has anything to do with The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, the sad, cynical little film from The Walt Disney Company that is my first exposure to the franchise.
Tim Allen returns as Scott Calvin, ordinary bloke thrust into the role of Santa by a magic red coat. He’s got a new Mrs Clause (see The Santa Clause 2 or rather don’t see The Santa Clause 2 if you can avoid it) which means the in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret) are coming to visit. Meanwhile Jack Frost (played with verve by Martin Short) has his eye on the fat guy’s job. Apart from Short, the whole exercise is tired and sloppy and I didn’t even manage to crack a smile until the inevitable out-takes at the end.
Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, on Wednesday 22 November, 2006.
Reason for Conflict: Last year I advised Arkles Entertainment to pick up Beyond The Sea after they lent me a preview DVD. I’m glad they did as I think it will do good business for them. Beyond The Sea is also playing at the Academy Cinema in Auckland, for whom I designed and maintain a web site.
Screening Conditions: The Departed was screened on Saturday afternoon in Empire 1 and very satisfactory it all was. The coffee was un-drinkable unfortunately but they made up for it with a delightful berry and almond friand (no cream?) and then a very nice decaff trim latté on Sunday night when I went back to see Kenny again. I seem to have turned into my own idea of an annoying customer — how ironic! Beyond The Sea was viewed on a DVD loaned by Arkles. I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen somewhere but time was not on my side this weekend. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause was played for me early last Thursday evening in Reading 5 — incidentally Reading’s media policy prevents me from watching films there on Friday, Saturday or Sunday which I’m sure suits us both down to the ground.