So I finally saw The Departed and The Prestige.
I don't really feel like discussing these much, but I think I should discuss them anyway.
Two fall treats from acclaimed directors.
Two pairs of hot men at odds.
Two dangerous trades (crime & magic).
Two good but not great films.
I enjoyed both of these, but haven't thought about either much since watching them. Both are very slickly made, but seem to be after no more than entertainment value. Great popcorn flicks both, but I'm not sure why the latter is being hailed as Scorcese's second coming. Yes, now he's back to making gansters flicks, but is this really that much better than The Aviator?
At first I actually thought I liked The Prestige more, but then it faded even faster in the memory. For all I'm generally bored by cops n' robbers flicks, there's no denying that The Departed is one of the best. Great editing and action set pieces, top-notch ensemble work, and at least one pretty great performance (DiCaprio) make it hard to dismiss, though all the "fuck you, you queer" stuff had me bored and a little annoyed (I'm just not into the masculine swagger, even when it's being sent up for laughs).
Also, Vera Farmiga's character isn't exactly brilliant as the film's sole representative of the female species. Nathaniel said it best: "Her character makes little sense. Well played, but well written?" And I don't see the big deal with Jack Nicholson's perf. I didn't find him all that scary, even if he was a big mob moss who could have you bumped off in less than an instant. He was just being Jack (his Warren Schmidt was much more impressive). And I'm not a huge Damon fan; I found his perf fine, but not hugely memorable. For my money, DiCaprio's best in show here by a mile. I worry that in his career at large, Leo's focusing too much on brooding and earnestness (he always seems to be trying so hard to be a "guy's guy"), but his earnest brooding is great here. Very compelling and sympathetic (to DiCaprio's credit, I really disliked the ending).
Basically, I thought the film was quite well-made, but I wouldn't call it a masterpiece. It is indeed very pulpy. I'm surprised it's been so highly praised, but not surprised it's done so well commercially. It's a very commercial film. I'd like to see nods for Scorcese and DiCaprio (in some category or another), and of course for the editing, but I can take or leave the rest. I'm not so keen on the inevitable Nicholson nom. I really don't see what's so special about this perf.
In other news, I'm not really mad they're promoting everyone as supporting. While think Leo and Matt were the two leads, it was essentially an ensemble piece; I wouldn't think of a supporting nod for DiCaprio as fraudulent. In fact, I'd welcome a nod for him there over Jack.
Anyway, The Prestige...
I enjoyed watching it a lot. I would watch Bale and Jackman do anything (seriously); 2 hours of them couldn't possibly be boring. The production values were stunning, the film had lots of atmosphere, and everyone in the cast was quite good (even Johannson, though promoting her for BEST ACTRESS seems kind of stupid). But the film has the same weakness that Memento had for me. At the end of the day, these films feel more like intellectual exercises than heartfelt pieces of storytelling. Everyone got so caught up in Memento's crazy-specific time-bending exercises, but I just didn't find myself caring that much. Same here with the mystery element, and final "twist" ending. I appreciate the care that went it to plotting all this out, but that care didn't make me care for any more the characters or the story, which, in the end, seem curiously "flat."
Again, it was great fun to watch. During the film, I was transfixed, and very much enjoying it. But afterward, it didn't linger in the memory at all. I only briefly wanted to go back and figure out all I'd missed. In an hour or so, I just thought "eh, whatever". I did appreciate the themes of showmanship and how theatre and film in general share that element of "mystery" with magic acts, and loved how that was brought out more in the end. But on the whole, Nolan's approach, precisely measured as it is, doesn't fully reflect the roundedness of life, that sense of wonder and excitement that great films capture and have you going back again and again to re-experience. For that, see Almodovar's Volver. Still, I'm very open to different readings of this film. Maybe I should see it again. Verdict, for now:
"Good, but I didn't love it."
"Good, but a little stilted."