Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Open Letter to Martin Scorsese

Dear Marty,

Yes, I am quite aware that "The Departed" took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Taxi Driver/Raging Bull/Goodfellas, but I can still be disappointed with your many missteps. Starting with a script (what else?) that simply was not tight enough to be up to Oscar. Exhibit A: Vera Farmiga. (And yes I know your relationship to female characters is spotty at best, but this one was nonexistent. I can’t even remember Farmiga’s character’s name. Did she have a name?) Swallowed up like a ghost in the Marty machine. Perhaps a few sex scenes would have helped. On second thought, lots of sex scenes. In fact, why not cut all Farmiga’s lines and show her getting down and dirty with Damon and DiCaprio (well, not at the same time – O.K., why the hell not?) Every time Farmiga appears onscreen, the brisk action-oriented pace comes to a dialogue-heavy standstill, clogging up the Marty machine. Extraneous scenes that don’t further the story, don’t develop the characters. What happened to “show not tell”?

And since you asked, yes I also had some problems with other thespians. DiCaprio appears fairly lost, wandering around the set in his skull, while Nicholson showboats his way through several scenes (yes, I know that’s what Jack does best). But when Nicholson’s character Frank Costello exploded in anger at his disrespectful girlfriend, I’d had enough. It was like the loudest instrument in the orchestra hitting a cringe-inducing sour note. Where the hell did that come from? I thought. It was like Nicholson couldn’t hold back anymore, chomping at the bit to break through soft and sinister Frank and chew up some scenery.

But of course I don’t blame Jack for his out-of-character tirades. I blame you, Marty. You’re supposed to know better. A great director who hires only the best and then lets them loose to do their job without interference is commendable. It works ninety percent of the time. But the ten percent when the actors need to be given some direction, need to be reeled in, you’re not there for them. It’s like you’re too distracted by the rest of the machine, controlling for every f-stop and sound effect and ignoring the human heartbeats. Did you not notice that Ray Winstone couldn’t nail the Boston accent? And so what! Let the Brit be Irish instead! Where’s the flexibility?

Something is very, very wrong when the best thing about a Martin Scorsese film is Matt Damon. Did I really just type that? Matt Damon? Yes, Marty. Your movies are physical wonders in need of physical movers like De Niro, not cerebral thinkers like DiCaprio. Damon is your new De Niro. He’s a guy with leading man looks who is much better suited to character parts, to villains, attacking these roles like a hungry wolf. Like a young Bob or Al – or Jack. Matt Damon got gypped. If anyone deserved to go up against Forest Whitaker for that Best Actor nod it was Matt. And Clive Owen in "Children of Men".

Which reminds me. Dear Alfonso Cuaron...

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