This week sees not only the release of The Departed on standard DVD in the UK, but also the announcement of the winner of the 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director' awards at The Oscars, for which The Departed has been nominated (along with nominations for 'Best Supporting Actor', 'Best Adapted Screenplay', and 'Best Editing'). It seems that for most observers it's a shoo-in for the Best Director award, NOT because it's the best directed picture, but because director Martin Scorsese has been robbed of an oscar so often in the past, and often for better films than this, that The Academy will want to put things right, if only because of the constant criticisms from the media.
Is that fair? No. But it's entirely typical if you look at the history of the Academy Awards. And, to be fair, the Academy could do a lot worse than give this 'Best Film'. It may not be Scorsese's best work, but it's a fine film nonetheless. For the record, my vote would be for Pan's Labyrinth but seemingly that can only compete for 'Best Film in a Foreign Language'.
Brilliantly adapted from the Hong Kong police thriller Internal Affairs, the film marks a return to his roots for Scorsese. Set in the gangster-noir world of previous films like Casino, Mean Streets, Goodfella's etc, the director has assembled a cast to die for in a good cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) vs bad crook (Matt Damon) story with lots of twists, violence, and four letter words. This is very much familiar territory for Scorsese fans, and when a film's as well executed as this one is, there really isn't much to complain about.
The violence, when it occurs, tends to be sudden and extremely bloody, which only adds to the tension cleverly built throughout the film. But there's great humour here too, albeit of the black variety. Damon and DiCaprio are well-matched as opposite numbers in a cops vs crooks film, with only Nicholson's scenery-chewing performance being perhaps a little TOO over-the-top. If you've seen any of Nicholson's films you pretty much know what to expect here!
The film runs at just over two and a half hours, but is gripping throughout, with no real flab. There are solid performances from the entire cast, even the very minor characters, and, as one might expect from Scorsese, some very nice directorial flourishes. You're never in any doubt that you're in the hands of a seasoned film-maker here, even though some of the narrative and back-story hoops the plot has to jump through can get quite convoluted.
The film feels like an 'epic', albeit perhaps a rather old-fashioned epic, and it's hard to imagine many people leaving the theatres unsatisfied after sitting through this, despite the rather down-beat ending. I don't want to give too much away here, but one views the news that Scorsese is now considering not only a sequel, but a prequel as well, with some alarm. Who would appear in it? The story told here is complete and self-contained, and while the high critical ratings and box office indicate strong support for Scorsese making a film in the genre he's famous for, there's no guarantee that good will is going to transfer to another film in the series. Obsession with establishing movie franchises, rather than just making good movies period, is killing this industry with the law of diminishing returns inevitably coming into play. Personally I'd rather see Scorsese move on to tackle some other genre.
This is another of the God-awful 'combo' releases with a Region 1 DVD (useless to Brits who don't have a multi-region player) on one side, and the HD-DVD on the other, which means the price gets pushed up to a ridiculous £18.99. Is it any wonder that both high definition formats are dying on their arses and look like being a bigger disaster than LaserDisc or SACD with pricing and formats like these? On the more positive side, the disc does show off the format well - a standard DVD is never going to look as good as this transfer does.
Alas, the usual con has been pulled on the extra's, with the most interesting featurette from the standard DVD, which concentrated on Martin Scorsese as a director, missing from the package. So much for the marketing promises about the 'extra capacity' of HD-DVD meaning we got MORE extra's, instead of less! There are two featurettes, running at 25 minutes each and annoyingly recorded in widescreen which is then presented inside standard definition 4:3 format so that there are big black bars all the way around the picture. These are very much the usual marketing fluff with the actors and crew members gushing endlessly about each other and talking up the film - not that it needs much talking up to be honest. Twenty minutes of deleted scenes, with a short filmed introduction from Scorsese, are finished to the same quality as the main feature, albeit presented in the same miniscule format as the main featurettes, and add some interesting additional notes for character motivation - not needed in the main film, but interesting enough in their own right. A theatrical trailer is also included, oddly in the correct anamorphic standard definition wide-screen format, which, if nothing else, serves as a great advert for the advantage of High Definition over Standard Definition, looking significantly less sharp and punchy in comparison with the main feature which is in high definitoon format.
I suspect the film is going to get lucky tomorrow (the day of the 79th Academy Awards), which should increase the film's caché as a purchase rather than a rental. It's a beautifully made and acted film, which will pay repeated viewings, so that even at the exorbitant 'combo' price it gets a highly recommended from me.