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The Departed

Mark Palermo has praise and rage.

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The Departed is a gripping adult thriller. Remaking the acclaimed Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, Scorsese returns to his tough guy films, delivering his straightest genre work since Cape Fear. The conventions could be a letdown, were The Departed not such an expert entertainment.

The feel of a world spiralling apart is the palpable doom neglected by too many thrillers. For Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), it eventually results from his conflicting allegiances. Working undercover for the Boston PD, he joins the team of feared Irish gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Costello also has his own informer in Sullivan (Matt Damon), who has taken a job as a cop.

Scorsese’s treatise on honour and trust has a sprawl at once epic and cohesive. It’s more accessible than The Black Dahlia, but it plays like a De Palma crime film in its pull-the-rug-out surprises. Seeing the movie with an audience is essential just for the treat of hearing the crowd react, startled.

Of course, if you’ve seen Infernal Affairs, The Departed’s impact is dulled. It’s deceitful how the film’s official publicity (even its credits) try to bury Infernal Affairs. Scorsese at least pays homage with Howard Shore’s Asian-influenced musical themes.

As a stand-alone film, it’s immensely satisfying—carried by the strength of its character relations and the pervasive threat of death. It’s only in failing to show that Costello is as villainous as everyone insists he is, that the film feels empty. Yet it’s also an interesting perspective for a film where “good” and “bad” are only status labels.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre stands among the greatest of all American independent films. Its inescapable madhouse atmosphere gets replaced with a base unpleasantness in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning—allegedly a prequel to the 2003 remake, but more accurately a remake of that film. Jonathan Liebesman shoots in a muted variation of the gold-light-on-black-canvas texture of Marcus Nispel’s ’03 film. Without that picture’s gloss, it’s an effort to return the power-tool cannibals to their grainy roots.

By fleshing out the backstory of Leatherface and the Hoyt family, the once inexplicable terror takes on a suggestion of tragedy. Not facing the potential, Liebesman can’t move his horror beyond a bullying fraudulence. “This is one of the assholes that fucked with you at school!” encourages foster parent Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) to his homicidal son. Yet the focus in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning isn’t on the confrontation of demons, moral reckoning or terror. It’s an unimaginative exercise in suffering. Here’s the thing: People who decry the existence of horror movies are speaking from a position of privilege. They don’t have to think about the outsider-empathy that isolated teens find in socially disfavoured movies and music. The importance kids take from Marilyn Manson, A Nightmare on Elm St. and The Hills Have Eyes remake (pop art that tells them they’re not alone) is a long way from the soulless carnage-orgy of this new Chainsaw Massacre and the Saw films.

Nothing in the film—not the gratuitous Apocalypse Now ceiling fan homage, not Leatherface’s agonizing reveal of his sewing class skills—bears understanding of the original, or establishes itself as a distinctive horror entry. You can’t honour a classic with a shrine made of garbage.

What’s your shrine made of? write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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