7 November 2006 | bob the moo
Enjoyable thriller but there are failings and missed targets across the running time
The war between the police and the organised crime in Boston has reached new heights. Both Oliver Queenan and target #1 Frank Costello have placed a mole into each other's organisations. Billy Costigan is selected to infiltrate Costello's ranks thanks to a family background of criminals and working men, meanwhile Colin Sullivan has been groomed since youth to come up inside the ranks of the BPD. As Costigan makes progress it becomes clear to his police superiors that they too have a rat feeding information outwards. With only Frank knowing Sullivan's identity and Queenan and Dignam knowing Costigan's, a race begins with the first one to expose the other winning.
Having enjoyed the original film, I was quite looking forward to this film and not really worried that Hollywood would mess it up. In a way it does deliver but it is hard to ignore the problems and failings in the film and if I didn't realise how IMDb put together their top 250 list, I would be amazed that the film is running so high up it. The original was a tight cop thriller which I remember thinking owed much to American cinema in style and tone, so surely America can only do it better? Well, if not better then this is certainly bigger, with stars oozing out of every pore, a big director and a long running time. In regards the latter, the film should be commended for moving slickly through the 150 minutes and not feeling as long as it is. The fact that it is cool, engaging and quite exciting will be enough for most audiences and indeed the sheer volume of positive votes on this site shows it has struck something of a chord, but this is not to say it is a classic and those putting it alongside Goodfellas are simply out of their trees.
The script here tries to give more room for growth to the characters, to explore their feelings outside of the tension and fear of their situation. Unfortunately this produces many scenes that are a bit dull and unconvincing as they attempt to deepen the material. Specifically I am talking about the thread involving the girlfriend, her scenes add little and the dialogue in the session scenes is obvious and, as a Sopranos viewer, I was surprised by this. A secondary downside of this (although not totally to blame) is that it is not as gripping and claustrophobic as I would have liked. Yes it is thrilling at times but I wanted it to be consistent like a real cat'n'mouse game with the noose tightening palatably around each character's neck as they raced to hang the other first. The ending is also a little less effective than it should be because, added to the original's strong ending is an extra scene that doesn't have a strong foundation and is not as good as it should have been.
Ironically for such a starry affair, some of the performances are a bit weak, and I'm thinking specifically of Damon. He never seems like the flipped version of Costigan and I never really got the feeling of him being trapped, panicked and hunted in the same way as his opposite number was. Conversely then DiCaprio is pretty strong and is convincing as he loses himself into Costello's gang of murderers. He works well alongside a scene-stealing Nicholson. At times he threatens to completely tip over into ham but for the most part he is just larger than life and provides a lot of energy to the film. This energy is harnessed well by director Scorsese who directs with this usual eye for a setup and also an enjoyable soundtrack. The use of sudden stops in the music and quick cuts is perhaps a bit much to get used to but it is strangely effective. The support cast is impressive in depth but they are not all that well used. Walhberg has all the best lines but it seems like he has wandered in from another movie at times and, funny as he was, he is never the developed and involved character that he needed to be for the way the narrative required. Baldwin is the same although he is more restrained and fits better, while Sheen is a nice touch of class. The woman playing the girlfriend is as weak as her material and although she did have an important part in the story, she adds very little beyond the writing on the page.
Overall though, this is a strong and professional film and it is a shame that it isn't as good as I wanted. The attempts to paint detailed and complex characters makes it interesting but not as convincing as it needed to be with Damon in particular left out there with little to work with in comparison to DiCaprio. The moments of slick tension and action are very good though and the only downside was that it made me wish for more of the same and that Scorsese had focused on keeping it tight and taut in the same way that the superior original had.