The Departed, explained to a 5-year-old

left: DiCaprio and Nicholson, by Scorsese.  right: Plastic Man and Hawkgirl, by Sam.

The movie, plus previews, plus travel, is three hours long, so my wife and I don’t get home until 11:15.  Sam (the 5-year-old in question) has been left with an untested babysitter.  He is still awake, and delighted to see me as I take him back to bed.  My wife and I are still kind of buzzed from the movie, which is a feast.

Sam: How was the movie?
Dad: It was great!
Sam: What was it about?
Dad: It’s, it’s for grown-ups, dude.  Time for bed.
Sam: But what was it about?
Dad: It was about gangsters and policemen.  Cops and robbers.  Good guys and bad guys.
Sam: But what happened?
Dad: Sam, it is, currently, three and a half hours past your bedtime.
(Dad can feel that his buzz from the movie is transferring directly to his son, who is picking up on the vibe.  And, since the movie is also about fathers and sons — real and metaphorical — it’s hard for Dad to break it off.)
Sam: But what happened in the movie?
Dad: Well.  (beat)  There are the police, right?  And they’re the good guys.  And then there are the gangsters, they’re the bad guys.  Right?
Sam: Sure.  And they wear different outfits.
Dad: That they do.  That they do.
(Dad is stunned by this logistical leap from his son.  They do, in fact, wear different outfits, but probably not in the way that Sam is thinking.  Sam has, for his part, spent the evening watching Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, which also features gangsters, so he knows all about gangsters.)
Dad: Okay.  So the police want to get the gangsters, so they send a policeman dressed up as a gangster to go spy on the gangsters.
Sam: Okay.
Dad: Now: at the same time, the gangsters, they want to know if the police are going to catch them, so they dress one of their guys up like a policeman to go spy on the police.  So the police have a spy with the gangsters and the gangsters have a spy with the police.
(Sam’s look is drifting into incomprehension.  Dad should probably let it do so.  But his status as a storyteller is at stake.  He seeks clarity.)
Dad: It’s like, let’s say, the Joker wants to spy on Batman.  So he gets one of his guys and dresses him up like Robin and sends him over to spy on the Batcave.  Meanwhile, Batman, without knowing what the Joker is doing, takes that ridiculous outfit off of Robin and dresses him up like one of the Joker’s guys and sends him to go spy on the Joker.  And so through the whole movie you’re worried about whether both guys are going to get caught.
(Comprehension achieved.  Sam’s face swims with the sudden illumination of possibilities.)
Sam: Wow.  So what happens?
Dad: Well, what happens is that everybody gets into a whole heap of trouble.
Sam: Yeah, but what happens?
Dad: I’ll tell you what.  It’s a great movie, and you can see it when you’re older.  Like, when you’re a teenager.  Hey, how about you and me go out for a milkshake?


PS. I’ve read a couple of reviews that complain about Jack Nicholson’s performance in this movie.  Or worse, they sort of sniff in disdain about some imaginary unhinged, undisciplined “crazy Jack” performance instead of a measured, finely observed characterization.  As though they’re disappointed by seeing the greatest movie star of our time, and one of the greatest of all time, give a performance equal to the character’s importance in the story.  I have no patience with these people.  The acting in the movie (and the casting I might add) is uniformly excellent. In a time with few movie stars, here is a movie filled with movie stars, from the leads down to some blindsiding supporting roles, all doing really great work with a kind of energy I can’t remember seeing before, like they’re all eager to show us what they’ve got. hit counter html code


20 Responses to “The Departed, explained to a 5-year-old”
  1. heathyr1158 says:

    I’ll second that “greatest movie star of our time” sentiment. Also the most enigmatic, I would say. Could you imagine being a fly on the wall inside his house? The possibilities of what one would witness are nearly infinite.

    Also, on another note. I would like to apologize for my rudeness at friending you and not giving any warning. When I was sick a week or so ago I was clicking around LJ and came across this journal and found the entries to be enjoyable and entertaining. So I added you as a friend and didn’t even think about it. I blame it on the Sudafed since it is very unlike me to friend people I don’t even know. So, sorry. Now I don’t feel so stalker-ish.

    • Todd says:

      Also, on another note. I would like to apologize for my rudeness at friending you and not giving any warning.

      Not a problem. All are welcome.

  2. edo_fanatic says:

    I don’t know…for some reason I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as a lot of people. Sure…I liked Jack as his Joker character and the acting was pretty good (I didn’t like that over the top mean cop or Alec Baldwin ), but the plot seemed unimaginative and dull…until they all die in the end. Maybe with so many great actors.. they all try to compete creating obnoxious scenes.

    • Todd says:

      That “over the top mean cop,” young lady, was Mr. Mark Wahlberg.

      (shakes his head sadly, mutters “kids these days…”)

  3. popebuck1 says:

    Yeah, exactly what do people THINK they’re going to be getting when they go see a Jack Nicholson performance? And when he’s playing a gangster kingpin who has everything in the world and lives with absolutely no limitations from within or without, exactly how “subtle and low-key” do you really WANT the actor’s performance to be???

    Sheesh. It’s like ordering a steak and sending it back for being too “steaky.”

    • Todd says:

      But, see, I found his performance to be completely subtle and low-key. Apart from a couple of moments which take up about 1.5 seconds of screen-time, I couldn’t identify a single “Jack”-ish moment in the whole movie.

      • Seconded! I love Jack and all, but this is the first time in a while I watched one of his performances and felt like I was watching a character instead of Jack (About Schmidt is probably the last time he pulled this off, with A Few Good Men and Hoffa being two other notable, if less successful exceptions, and The Crossing Guard being a less entertaining one).

        • Todd says:

          Yeah, you know what? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Jack Nicholson is a good actor.

          You hear me, J. Hoberman? You hear me, Manohla Dargis? Yeah, that’s right, I said it, come get me. JACK NICHOLSON IS A GOOD ACTOR. You want a piece a me?

  4. Have you seen Infernal Affairs? I feel like a lot of the less positive reviews have reflected on the extent to which Scorcese balances a number of goals, one of which is the adaptation of the original film. So I’m worried that if I see the movie as a remake it’ll come off differently…less well.

    Not that Infernal Affairs was the best movie ever. It’s more the principle of the thing.

    • Todd says:

      Have you seen Infernal Affairs?

      I have not. I’ve heard it’s good. I heard that Scorsese was doing a remake and that was enough to make me want to wait to see it.

  5. greyaenigma says:

    You take your son out for milkshakes three hours after his bedtime? Man.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The Departed

    Although I like The Departed very much (it held great on second and third viewing, too), I’m not the biggest fan of Mr.Nicholson’s acting style. Jack Gittis? Yes. The guy in Departed? Not so much. In fact, I also don’t think his performance was particularly ‘low-key’ here — in The Bucket List, maybe. But I agree the rest of the cast was anonymously brilliant. Especially Baldwyn and (personal favorite in the movie) ‘the mean cop’ Wahlberg. I really enjoy the weird energy in The Departed, aside from the great plot and dialog. I’ve seen the Asian original and it’s good, too. But The Departed is another league. One of the cases where US remakes are in fact better than the original films. The Ring, and The Birdcage come to mind, too. Would you agree?
    On a side note, I hear they’ll remake The Orphanage. I don’t know anything about the project but I’d bet whatever amount of money you’d like that they would cast Maria Bello in the lead role. They’ll also remake a German masterpiece called Lives of the Others. Now, this is ridiculous. The original is absolutely astonishing. It can’t be done even remotely as good again.

    • Todd says:

      Re: The Departed

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen La Cage, but I find Hideo Nakata’s Ringu about six times more terrifying than The Ring. Which is not to say that The Ring is some kind of duff movie, because it’s very good. But Ringu scared the ever-lovin’ shit out of me.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Ringu

        Yes, I can see why you found it more terrifying. It has some very, well, Asian, weirdness to it. The Ring is more creepy than scary, I find it much more entertaining and in a way, creepier, than the original. More subtle-creepy, if you like. Actually, there’s similar correlation between Infernal Affairs and The Departed. The first is more on the point, the second–much more sophisticated, and masterfully crafted. And a recommendation if you allow me –please, do yourself a favor and watch Lives of Others.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Ringu

          Ringu was also handed to me as an unmarked video cassette by a studio executive who wisely didn’t tell me anything about it. It frightened me so badly that when I described it to some friends of mine the next night over dinner it frightened them too.

          The Lives of Others, that’s the one about the East German Stasi guy recording the conversations of the people in East Germany, right? I saw that. It’s good. I don’t know how they could improve it by remaking it in English.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Ringu

            Yes, exactly my point.

            btw, the cinematography in The Ring is beautiful and helps the movie big time-there was shots like the one where the sun shines through the bloodred leafs of a tree…haunting.