Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gone but not departed...

I re-watched the DVD yesterday and was remembering that when this movie came out a lot of people giving Jack Nicholson flack for his one-note performance as Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese's movie The Departed. But yet in the same movie Mark Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role. All of which overlooks what I think is the best supporting performance in the movie. And I think that comes from Alex Baldwin as head of the Special Crime unit.

An actor can only play what's written on the page. So it's the screen writers job to make sure that the actor has a fully rounded person to play. An actor's performance has to fit into the whole of the movie so he has to temper his performance under the guidance of the director for the good of the movie as whole. Then the film has to be edited together using the best parts of the actor's performance under the watchful eye of the editor and director as they re sculpt the writers story transforming it from the written to the visual.

OK, so what does this all mean? Well, The departed won the "Best Director, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture at the 2007 Oscar awards. So we must assume that this means everyone was working at the top of their game. So is it Nicholson's fault alone? I think we should ask first what is it that makes a great performance. In my experience it is when an actor pulls out layers of emotion in their performance. When everything they do has two meanings. Especially when both meanings are the exact opposite of each other. Great acting is by nature dialectic. Which is more fascinating? A man holding a gun who looks at you and snarls "I'm gonna kill you" or the same man, holding the same gun who smiles and winks at you before telling you he's gonna kill you?

Baldwin gives a great seething performance as on the surface an the upwardly mobile, corporate manager with a shinny veneer. Perfect smile. Every hair in place. Hitting golf balls on the driving range, while giving Matt Damon advice on how to get a head in the bureau. Contrasted with the out of control maniac he turns into when the sting he's been planning goes arwy and he begins to choke his own man, who he blames for the fiasco.

This is great acting. Unfortunately Nicholson plays Costello more on the one-note "Hey I'm a crazy bad guy". It would have been interesting to have seen him help out DiCaprio. Take him under his wing a bit. Had he a bit of Martin Sheen's character and Sheen a bit of his I think this would have deepened both performances. I can see why Scorsese might have steered away from this having covered similar ground with Gangs of new York but I think it hurt the character development in the end.

Also I think Matt Damon gave a better performance than Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was always playing a guy under tremendous stress. Again one-note. What if they showed him actually getting used to the lifestyle a bit. Grow accustom to the violence and easy money. Mine some of the same territory as the movie Donnie Brasco did. You would have gotten a more complicated character. Damon to his credit did that. He played a lying, stealing, backstabbing cheat, but you could see how he longed to break free of Costello and rise a bove it. To really better himself but he could not overcome his tragic flaw and succumbed to his fate.
Now I hope all this doesn't give the impression I didn't like this movie because I really do. It's a fun, twisty-turny crime flick. I was just wondering with Scorsese's winning a long over do Oscar for The Departed was it his best movie. And I have to say no. It's not as good as Raging Bull, Taxi driver, Goodfellas or Casino. And I thought why? And it was the proliferation's of one-note character in it that I think makes it just miss it's mark. But It's great fun.