This is one of the best bad movies I’ve ever seen. It’s fabulously entertaining to watch up to the last 20 minutes, where it takes a serious nose-dive. But amusing as it is, upon leaving, you start to think back on it, and with a bit of poking, the film completely falls apart. I think, actually, that this is why the last 20 minutes are so disappointing – the film is so poorly constructed that the ending can’t help but be an attempt to lamely tie up loose ends.
But first, the virtues – the dialogue is phenomenal. Fast-paced, witty, often hilarious. The acting is largely brilliant (though I was less impressed with Jack Nicholson than I expected to be), with Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin in particular delivering absolutely stellar performances. The two leads, Leonardo Dicaprio and Matt Damon, weren’t quite as strong, but this is due more to poor writing than poor acting, I think. In any case, the movie is a real blast to watch. Fast-paced and funny, it’s a real treat. You’re borne along in the excitement, and don’t invest too much energy considering the plot – until it begins to draw to a close, at which point, the other shoe drops.
The story itself is fairly compelling – two double agents working for opposite sides, tracking each other. Unfortunately, it’s not handled with enough grace. The parallelism is often clumsy, and the psychological exploration that would have made the movie really intriguing is foregone in favor of cheap suspense. That both of them are sleeping with the same woman, for instance, adds some thrill perhaps, in that there’s a chance that they could find out about each other, but in fact, the buildup goes nowhere, and it ultimately feels totally contrived. How much more interesting it would have been to watch each in a relationship with a different woman, and thus get a more nuanced glimpse into their minds! Alas.
It’s odd, in that the movie seems to want to be subtly probing, but ends up being alternately vague and ham-fisted. Thus, repeated symbolic hints clue you in to the fact that Matt Damon’s character is impotent, but gives you no good reason to give a shit. The characters aren’t sufficiently developed to be truly sympathetic (in the fellow-feeling sense, not the nice guy sense), thus the development we do get serves largely to bog down the storyline, or to seem like a crude caricature. There’s some attempt to introduce the question of what truly separates cops from criminals, but again, the question is raised and then left hanging, without enough material provided to make it truly thought-provoking.
But having said all that, allow me to reiterate how much fun the movie is to watch. The individual scenes are, for the most part, great – it’s just that they don’t add up to a coherent, satisfying whole. For example, in the middle of the movie, there’s a somewhat mysterious scene where Jack Nicholson is tossing handfuls of cocaine onto a bed where two young ladies are writhing about. What’s the point of that scene? No idea. But you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty fucking hardcore. Likewise, why does one of the mafia dudes, upon his death, inform Leonardo Dicaprio that he’s figured him out, and then, with his last breath, challenge Dicaprio to explain why? Is it because he’s he’s also an undercover cop? Is it because he just happens to have a soft spot for Leo? Is it because he’s had a change of heart and is actually hoping that the crime ring will get busted? Who knows! But it makes for a pretty intense scene.
Oh, and a sidenote – the movie is pretty intensely gory. This has been remarked upon in many reviews with some shock, as though this were the first movie to come out with this kind of violence. Have these people ever seen a Tarantino flick? Did they go to Sin City? Brutal, splattering, visceral violence is the new black, folks. People don’t just get shot in the head anymore, they get their brains sprayed onto the wall behind them, with big gooey drops of blood flying through the air. I’m not sure why this is, but I find it kind of interesting. A guy I was talking to at the bar about the movie told me that he found it really disturbing, which honestly kind of surprised me. Perhaps I’m just part of a younger, desensitized generation, I dunno.
In conclusion then, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. It’s a great time. You’ll have fun watching it. Just don’t think about it too much afterwards.