Thursday, October 12, 2006

"The Wire" versus "The Departed"

This weekend, I, along with my girlfriend, went to watch the new Martin Scorcese film "The Departed." I was pretty excited because (a) I love Martin Scorcese, (b) I like Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg a lot, (c) I think Leo DiCaprio is decent in the right role, and (d) I enjoy Jack Nicholson, even though he's approacing Al-Pacino-like parody of himself lately. Also, the film was about cops and gangsters, and lately, I've been very interested in cops and gangsters (I'll explain momentarily).

In any event, and without giving anything away, here's my review of the film: it's dogshit. I hated it. It was so bad, I couldn't believe what I was watching. The central story -- that Jack Nicholson's gang has a rat within the Massachusettes police dept., and the police have a rat with Jack -- was full of gaping, glaring, indefensible holes. The love story was a complete crock. In fact, there were moments of such stupidity I laughed out loud in the theater in mocking derision. My girlfriend hated it too. Surely, we thought, this movie is destined to flop horribly, to be mocked for years to come as Scorcese's greatest mistake.

Then the movie ended. And the audience clapped.

Sure, it was opening night on a Friday. But here's the thing: everyone loves this movie. Check out -- it's polling 92%! For once, the critics and the public are in complete agreement -- the film is killing in reviews and at the box office.

So what gives? Two words: "The Wire."

If you haven't watched this television show on HBO -- the first three seasons are on DVD -- then you haven't watched what is indisputably the greatest show on television today, and arguably of all time. The basic premise: cops in Baltimore try to catch and prosecute drug dealers in Baltimore. That's it. Each season takes a different "target", i.e., gangster-criminal that is the focus of the police investigation, and then uses 12 episodes to masterfully demonstrate how the police build their case.

What makes The Wire uniquely brilliant is the realism it presents. While most television and movie "dramas" ask the viewer to suspend their disbelief, The Wire takes the exact opposite approach: Believe. The show strives at every turn to present the real Baltimore and the real lives of its denizens, from the street slingers selling crack on street corners to the cops on the beat to the corrupt City councilmen. And it succeeds. It succeeds because, with rare exception, the writing and the casting and the plot lines are all entirely believable and real. Simply put, it's a minimasterpiece.

Which is why, when I now watch shlock like "The Departed," I can't suspend my disbelief and enjoy the film, when nothing about the movie remains remotely plausible. It's just too fake. No, it's worse than fake -- it's absurd, in the literal sense of the word. The Wire versus The Departed? There's no comparison.


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