I’m fond of Martin Scorsese – this, for instance – but even I was amazed when this film won him his Oscar at last for best director. I guess when the fates align – he’s been ignored for so long, the film had a VERY starry cast, it was a success at the box office (his biggest?), and there was nothing else (apparently) – you can’t ignore the justice of giving the man his statue after he has deserved it for too many years, even if this film is merely very good rather than great.
Remakes are kind to Marty – his remake of Cape Fear showed the studios that he could make a mainstream picture to budget and schedule that would make money – and this remake of the excellent Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs was very kind indeed. Following the same basic (and brilliant) premise as the original film, we are introduced to an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) infiltrating the local Irish mob and a criminal (Matt Damon) from the Irish mob becoming a policeman to work as a mole for the mob boss (Jack Nicholson), which becomes more tense when Damon gets handed the investigation to uncover the mole in the police force.
What follows is some great acting, great directing, great use of pop music as soundtrack and a thrilling and violent film. It has a great cast: in addition to the big names above, there’s Martin Sheen as the Leo’s boss; Mark Wahlberg as his snarky but smart second-in-command; Alec Baldwin as a police captain; and Ray Winstone as one of Nicholson’s top men. It’s quite something to see them all working together, chewing on some sharp dialogue.
However, a problem in the story is that, in accommodating Nicholson into the film by boosting his role, it unbalances the story. It shifts it from the dazzling central conceit to the examination of the protagonists’ relationships with Jack. When he dies, near the end of the film, a lot of the energy and drive goes out of the movie, almost undercutting the drama of the final act. Fortunately, everything else is so well done that it doesn’t overpower the film completely, allowing such wonderful scenes as the ‘no dialogue mobile phone’ scene with Damon and DiCaprio to shine.