Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Departed

Spy Vs Spy

The big question on the minds of those who have seen the original Hong Kong movie is whether this Hollywood remake is worth watching. I'd say hell yeah, down to your last dollar, weekend price or otherwise.

Infernal Affairs (2002) earned its place in recent Asian movie history for reenergizing the cop thriller genre. Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, the movie had a one of a kind storyline about mole vs mole in the underworld and the police, and starred heavyweights Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in the lead roles, with support by recognized character actors Anthony Wong, and Eric Tsang, with the appeal of Gen-X/Y actors in Edison Chen and Shawn Yue.

After opening to rave reviews and becoming a trilogy, the rumour mill was out and about with Hollywood wanting to do a remake, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, whom to my personal speculation, would have just been as riveting with either actors taking on either role. It's a kind of Face/Off situation where the distinction between good-bad guys gets blurred.

Essentially, with any spectacular, gripping story, you can have it done and made countless of times, and each version should all come out great given that the source - the story - is the same. However, it is always easy to screw up and not meet expectations, and herein likes the innate pressure that the cast and crew must have felt, taking on something that works, and making it their own.

In Martin Scorsese's The Departed, the director teams up once again with Leonardo DiCaprio, after two consecutive collaborations in Gangs of New York and The Aviator. Here, DiCaprio takes on Tony Leung's role as the police mole in the underworld, headed by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). As Billy Costigan, the biggest challenge is always to be on the positive side of an unsteady gangland boss, and maintaining some form of sanity while dealing with an identity crisis. Matt Damon is Colin Sullivan, in a role modelled after Andy Lau's, as the gang member inside the police force, feeding information to Costello. He finds himself living the good life. and contemplates the risk in having throw it all away should he get caught. And the cat and mouse game begins as both moles try to outwit, outplay and outlast each other, knowing that any revelation of their true identities will be totally disastrous, each trying to flush the other guy out.

The acting's all round superb from both leads, with a stellar ensemble featuring recognizable faces in Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. It's a welcome return for Nicholson back in the bad guy role after his recent attempts at comedies. I thought each instance where Wahlberg came on is a hoot, as his character, Dignam, comes with a dirty mouth which shoots off the cuff. In fact, Anthony Wong's character had to be split into two, shared between Sheen and Wahlberg (which I think is a nod to Wong's ability, given two persons required to fill his shoes). Newcomer Vera Farmiga took on Kelly Chen's role as the psychiatrist and Sammi Cheng's role combined into one, doing away with probably an additional unnecessary character which the original featured. There are other minor changes along the way (no remake can be an exact copy of another), but none too drastic, keeping intact the integrity of the premise, key scenes, and plot elements and devices.

Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, an hour longer than the original, you will not feel its length, even as the movie took its time to establish the story and its characters. The dialogue is a major draw with some memorable lines, and if you've watched the original, your mind is constantly racing to draw parallels, but in most times, you'll find it equally engaging and as exciting, as if you're coming across the story for the very first time. Of course the pivotal ending, which was marred with the original having two of them to pander to being politically correct, is one such scene which actually helps to build anticipation as to how Scorsese would have to conclude. It's that sense of familiarity, yet a sense of something new. With some scenes being extended in duration, it helped build a certain depth for the characters as well, which does wonders for the movie.

But what I felt lacked in this remake, was that personal link between the two moles, of a "what-if" scenario between the two before they faced off each other. Here, they are adversaries all the way, but the original provided a sort of hint, that if these two were on the same side of the law, they could have been the best of friends. Also, in the first mole versus mole match up, while in an attempt to be different from the original, it unfortunately lacked the intensity that Infernal Affairs had, but just for this particular scene.

If you're wondering if The Departed is as good as Infernal Affairs, I'd say it is a worthy remake, except for that cheesy last shot before the end credits rolled. Some folks are already screaming Oscars.

But remember, Asian Cinema produced this gem first!

P.S even though rated M18 locally, there were noticeable cuts in the movie, especially in dialogues.

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