Thursday, January 28, 2010

Five Reasons Why The Departed is Overrated

(This entry is part of the Netflix Project series.)

Apparently, The Departed won a lot of awards. Cool. And enough people have made references to it, either direct or oblique, that I thought it merited consideration toward the top of the Project.

I didn't think it was that bad a movie. The problem is, I just didn't think it was that good a movie either. Given the critical acclaim that it received, this might be surprising; given my generally lukewarm attitude to a vast majority of movies out there, it's perfectly in character. Why am I unlikely to commit The Departed to any of my "top movies of all time" lists?

1) This movie is long. Generally, I think that movies are best suited to the hour-and-a-half to two-hour range. Longer than two hours is okay as long as you've got something really interesting going. Two and a half hours is in many ways a point of no return where my attention span tends to stray irreversibly. And three hours is only ever acceptable if you're adapting a fantasy novel to film. The Departed weighs in right at that 2.5 hour mark, and boy does it feel like all 150 minutes.

Here's something interesting. Leonardo DiCaprio, while able to produce films of wildly varying quality, seems uncompromising on their length. Consider:

--Titanic, 1997, 194 minutes, awful
--Catch Me If You Can, 2002, 141 minutes, actually quite enjoyable
--Gangs of New York, 2002, 166 minutes, pretty good
--The Aviator, 2004, 169 minutes, sort of okay
--The Departed, 2006, 151 minutes, meh

2) The characters are all the same. If you want to make a film where 10 of the 12 most important characters are white dudes from Boston with Irish ancestry, that's fine, as long as we can tell them apart. Jack Nicholson's not-so-merry band of thugs are especially interchangeable, and it took until half of them were dead for me to be able to distinguish them.

Also, the worst part of setting a 151-minute movie in Boston? You're necessarily doomed to hear the Boston accent (the single most irritating of the American accents) for two and a half hours.

3) The love story was completely unnecessary. Tell me that the movie would have been any different without "little miss Freud", and you'd be lying. She appears as a convenient excuse at the end to have Matt Damon's character (whose generic Irish-ish name I can't remember) come to terms with his double life, but you know what, any other character could have happened upon those tapes and the result would have been exactly the same.

4) The plot was overly MacGuffin-y. A briefcase full of super-powerful microchips that have some vague appeal to the Chinese because of their William Tell-like ability to pinpoint cruise missiles from halfway around the world? Come on. That amounts to an admission that you're using the entire plot as a mere excuse to play around with your characters. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but for a film to be truly great, both the plot and characters have to be excellent.

5) Soul-crushing determinism. Let's look at the material lessons of what happen to the characters in this film. You're a high-up in a crime syndicate, you die. Okay, I can get behind that. You're the crime syndicate's rat in the police, you die. Fine. You're the ho-bag psychologist who can't keep her pant suit on; you don't die, but your life is irrevocably messed up. Yep, you deserved that one.

But... you're the police secret agent in the crime syndicate, you die. You're the honest cop who just wants to do the right thing, you die. You're the upstanding police captain (and just about the only sympathetic character in the film), you die. Virtually nothing positive happens to anyone in this movie, whether "good guy" or "bad guy".

Currently listening: "Ignorance", Paramore (nope, the Paramore binge hasn't ended yet)


Anonymous said...

thanks alot for this. right on all accounts. now do inception please.

rightaboveit01 said...

The Godfather I and II and The Deer Hunter, to name a few, all go for 3 hours so does that instantly make them bad movies?

Matt Pavlovich said...

I haven't seen The Deer Hunter, but I do think both Godfather movies could probably have been shorter and not lost much. That said, the characters in The Godfather were more interesting than those in The Departed, and the plot was far less contrived.