Sunday, October 17, 2010

Movie: The Town

Boston makes me feel good.

This post will begin with a disclaimer: I am still lingering in the period of my life which shall be described in my future memoirs as ‘The years when I had not yet seen Michael Mann’s critically-acclaimed Heat. This review is not about Heat. This review is about a film that is a lot like Heat. I have not seen Heat. How do I know it’s like Heat? Because that’s what everyone’s saying, and these sentences must end in Heat. Heat.

Now that we’ve wriggled our way out of that sluggish introduction, let’s take a look at Ben Affleck’s The Town. The first point to look at is that title. James Cameron’s Avatar, Quentin Tarantino Presents Hostel, Earnest Goes To School. All these guys are allowed to have their names tagged onto films, yet Ben Affleck wasn’t allowed to even be associated with this film in the trailer. ‘From the director of Gone Baby Gone‘. How hurtful must that be? Affleck consoles himself, however, by being a Mr Perfect in a sea of crooks. And by having the only sex in the movie. With multiple women. Including Blake Lively.

The Town takes its name from Charlestown, a rundown and depressing quarter of Boston where the locals seek solace in a perpetual competition to have the most bizarre accent. This competition is won every day by Pete Postlethwaite, who plays a Northern Irish gangster florist whose accent swings violently between Bostonian, Irish, Northern Irish, and everything in between. Although it’s no Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own, so thank goodness he didn’t pop up to steal the trophy.

The story goes thus: Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his townie friends are blue-collar regular guys and professional bank-robbers who never get caught, and Doug meets Claire, who he falls for and tries to hide his criminal identity from. The criminal tendencies of the film demanded a little suspension of disbelief, I felt. They’re not portrayed as clever enough to get away with anything, especially given that the only heists carried out in the movie contain numerous unforeseen mishaps. It’s hard to truly believe that Jon Hamm’s FBI Special Agent Frawley would have needed to have been called in at all.

So the story splits into 3 basic areas: The romance between Dougand Claire, Doug and friends planning the next big heist, and Special Agent Frawley trying to catch them out. I wasn’t convinced by the romance, to be honest, which may have been due to how whiny Claire’s character is. A particular personal highlight was her describing how even sunny days make her sad because they reminded her of her brother, who died on a sunny day. There is just no pleasing some people. There is a fourth, more subtle subplot involving Doug’s ex-girlfriend, the drugged-up, strung-out Krista (Blake Lively). This story doesn’t really seem to move anywhere or be all that coherent either, and it’s a shame because she turns in a pretty good show for it, having chosen the role to no doubt start a ‘serious career’ and to create a distance from her best-known efforts in Gossip Girl.

Doug and his crew aren’t particularly fleshed out. He has a frayed-wire right-hand-man in James (Jeremy Renner), who spent time in prison for Doug and is reluctant to watch him leave their beloved neighbourhood, but there are two or maybe three others that we don’t really know at all, and the film seems to admit to this by giving us a sequence wherein S.A. Frawley explains all the crooks’ backgrounds in a ‘let’s get ‘em!’-style meeting downtown. Renner’s performance is a stand-out, however, and he is a joy to watch throughout.

The story moves along well, and builds to a pretty intense climax, only to end a little romantically for my tastes, but nonetheless it feels complete. I still felt that the story could have ended around 5-10 minutes before it did and, although this perhaps would have been to the detriment of the love-story, I could have done without it. My final complaint is that the main theme of the film, a vaguely haunting Irish piece, has a melody that I’m 90% sure is the Band of Brothers theme. Harry Gregson-Williams is better than this, and it was just distracting when it crept into the scenes.

All in all, the film is a very enjoyable affair, and is a signal of great things to come from Affleck’s directorial chair. His previous, oscar-nominated, effort Gone Baby Gone was brilliant but not as much of a wide-ranging pleaser as I feel this will be. It’s not at all surprise that it’s topping the box-office as I write this, and for the right reasons. A worthwhile night at the cinema.

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