the departed

oliver queenan: we deal in deception... do you know what i mean when i say that?

billy costigan: as a matter of fact, i do. i...
dignam: no, you don't know. because if someone like you knew what we did, that would make us cunts. are you calling us cunts?

- the departed.

the departed is set in south boston where the massachusetts state police department is waging a war to take down mob boss frank costello (jack nicholson). they decide to plant a mole in costello's organization, a rookie named billy costigan (leonard dicaprio). meanwhile, costello has his own mole imbedded in the police department, named colin sullivan (matt damon). what develops is a traditional cops and robbers one upmanship, except in this case, it's done incredibly well.

the movie is acted incredibly well, it's directed well, but that's all besides the point. it's a fantasic movie, definitely the best i've seen all year. what i want to focus on is the writing, which is air tight. usually with stories like this, i'll try to poke holes in it, and usually the story will end up looking like swiss cheeze. not in this case, and i was very pleased with that.

the film, despite its length, is incredibly fast moving, especially the first half of the movie. the contrast between how costigan and sullivan move up the ranks of their organizations is incredibly interesting and arresting. while sullivan enjoys some of the perks of being part of the special team on the police department (e.g.: recognition, dating the gorgeous police psychologist), costigan has to really dig down deep and get dirt and blood on his hands, which gets to the point where he eventually starts to lose his own identity after having lived the life of this criminal for so long.

the characters are written with some great care, knowing that too many cardboard cutout stereotypes will sink the movie. but at the same time, the screenwriters know that too much colour to the characters can make it look silly. the journey that each character goes through is detailed at great length, with great interest. you have on the one hand costigan, who only wants to get out, while on the other hand, you have sullivan, who likes his life and wants to keep it that way.

there are lots of twists and turns, but none of them so outlandish that it takes you out of the movie. as the movie gets progressively more detailed, i never got lost, and i never felt like i was being tricked or duped for the sake of being tricked or duped. this isn't a david lynch film, and that's a good thing. the story progresses naturally and the suprises are revealed logically, with most of them coming near the end, of course.

what i particularly liked about the movie was that it didn't spend too much time detailing backstory. it sort of gives you enough to know each character's motives, then it just dives right in and that's what good thrillers do; they make you jump in with both feet.

flags of our fathers

flags of our fathers details the life stories of six men who raised the flag at the battle of iwo jima, a turning point in the pacific theatre during the second world war. the movie essentially follows several timelines; one details the time from training camp, through the battle, and up to the flag raising. the second timeline details the life of the three soldiers after they have been plucked from the war to go on a propaganda blitz to get people to buy war bonds. and the third timeline involves the present day, where the son of one of the soldiers is interviewing veterans in order to tell his father's story.

it seems like a lot is going on in the movie, and there is, and therein lies the problem. paul haggis (crash, million dollar baby) wrote one of the drafts for this film, and it definitely has his heavy-handed influence all over it. the lines of dialogue are clunky save for a few moments of levity and the characters are all one-note, and i'm sorry, but really boring.

the problem with the timelines is particularly hurtful, because it appears that the structure of the film was never properly concieved or nailed down. the movie is all over the place, with flashbacks within flashbacks within, sometimes, more flashbacks. i think it would have worked much better if it were a very linear story. if it progressed the way saving private ryan did, where it starts out with the battle and works forward from that, i think it would have been a much better film.

like most american war films, this is a flag waving movie (literally), but i don't have a problem with that. the way i see it, the americans have a right to tell their stories the way they want; where i have a problem with those films is when they start changing history or distorting the facts. luckily, this movie stays fairly true to the story.

still, when you compare it to other war films like the thin red line or apocalypse now or platoon, it doesn't hold up at all. even compared to some not-so-good war films, it doesn't do that well. quite a disappointment, this one. the more i think about it, the more i want my money back.