I haven't seen Children of Men, but Alfonso Cuaron has never been a man to be glorifed on this board. At least he is different than the usuals. I'm for one glad that Scorsese didn't win here for The Departed. The Academy owed him the honor, but this board doesn't need to further glorify a lackluster effort.
See, many people believe that The Departed was just beneath Scorsese. That he still did a technically brilliant job but was working with a lackluster script. I also think he did a lackluster job directing.
The problem is that Scorsese was on auto pilot. He didn't know how to gage the story and change the rythm accoringly. He pulled out all of his usual tricks and nothing more.
Consider a scene. At the beginning, when Matt Damon is a boy and at the local conveniance store and first meets Nicholson's character. Nicholson warms up to him and has the employee give him free food, ranging from milk to bread and other things. The camera catches every product in a rapid fire montage as they are being given to the kid. Was the montage necessary? I don't think so. It was a beginning scene of little importance but to set up the story. The scene should have stayed simple, but it was used because it was a Scorsese hallmark.
That is the problem. The film gains energy and starts showing trickery with the film at odd times. Sometimes it makes sense, like when DiCaprio is with the shrink and trying to come clean with his demons but can't help remember the crimes and violence he recently committed. Most of the time the filmmaking is just running with the awkward aggression of the script. Most of the scenes are normal, but they spill out with ridiculous fuck this and fuck that dialogue. I kept thinking about Boondock Saints while watching the film.
But Scorsese doesn't try to clean up the script. He doesn't realize that many scenes are excessive without being telling. Many directors do work behind the scenes to clean up an original screenplay. Most of the time they don't even take credit. The film also could have benefited from a grittier look and feel, but the actors and locale looks to clean and standard to be authentic. It makes the artificial nature of the script that more apparent. Scorsese needed to better disguise the flaws of the script but did little so I don't think he even did a good job at directing.