22 September 2010

We Are Going to The Town

Watching The Town, I was concerned at the start when my main focus was on which Boston sports team would be on Ben's next track jacket (the Pats must be upset that none of their gear was ever on display). And it takes an hour to shake the Don Draper off of Jon Hamm's FBI agent (it finally happens when he wears a particularly unfortunate flannel shirt).

But enough about the clothes--this is a thriller about bank robbers, after all! As the pre-credit titles inform us, The Town is Charlestown, where there's more men working with submachine guns and Skeletor masks than anywhere else in the world. In case we might forget where we are, a hundred or so helicopter establishing shots of the Bunker Hill Monument help us remember.

Director Ben Affleck chose Ben Affleck to star as Doug, a gifted bank robber who's (spoiler alert!) also a pretty swell guy. His partner is Jim (Jeremy Renner, very at home and more comfortably trashy than Affleck), his ex is Jim's sister Krista (Blake very Lively) and his boring new girlfriend is Claire (Rebecca Hall), an employee of a bank he robbed.

The big problem: the movie should have been about Jim, not Doug. Look at either Scarface. Paul Muni and Al Pacino weren't the nice guys, they were the guys with sadistic spark that Jeremy Renner gets to display all too infrequently in The Town. The best scene is probably the one where Jim and Doug beat on some townies. Doug keeps his hockey mask on during the assault to avoid reprisal but Jim tears his off so the victim knows who to fear. A hint for Affleck going forward: we're more interested in the scary guy than the scared guy.

I'm sure the screenplay was how it was in the source novel and blah blah but as a director you have to see the actor who brings the heat and go with him. This is maybe harder to do if you're the director and star with less heat.

At least he looked sexy as hell. I find the older Ben, with a lined forehead, grey hairs and ripped body to be much more attractive than baby Ben. While Doug struggles to stay awake while talking to Claire as she plants flowers for poor children to trample, he has better chemistry with the slatternly, unapologetic Krista. For important historical background on this matter, see Vulture's 59-page slideshow "Blake Lively's Breast Looks" (hey--I just report the news!). I much preferred Affleck's "I'm trying to be a classy guy but I'm really not" vibe to his "I'm trying to be a classy guy" vibe with Rebecca Hall. Who was just boring.

Despite all demurrals, I'd recommend the film. It's well-cast (with fine additional work by Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite in what I understand to be flawless Northern Irish accent). It has my best ever chase scene starring a minivan. And it steals the ending of The Shawshank Redemption so neatly that I had to tip my hat. If only Ben's bearded Florida revelry were interrupted by Blake Lively approaching on a canoe, asking where she could score some Oxy...

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