Saturday, 2 October 2010


What I think is profitable and extremely welcoming about Ben Affleck's foray into directing is the way he makes the theme of his films so accessible to all audiences. Both of his features have now been set on the violent corrupted streets of Boston (USA... joke!) and both have been centered around an abduction. Throw in double dealings, complicated interwoven relationships, and intense but unfathomable mumblings - this can be heavy-going for a girl in her mid-twenties, who doesn't understand or even care about the seedy underground world of drugs, paid sex and the freedom of a gun. So what best to do? Make the villains the protagonists. Make the villains feel the same as you and me. That's where The Town succeeds, and earns my attention.

For a moment I thought it wouldn't. The start is very full-on, and there's a lot to take in. As the masked gang invade the bank, threaten the staff to get open the safe, the camera lingers on one of the men looking at Rebecca Hall in an almost remorseful way, I wondered if this was a flashback. I wondered if this whirlwind of action would end in an enticing "six months earlier" thrown across the screen. But once I realised this was real-time and actually happening, I had to run with it, hoping I was following things correctly so as to not get thrown off the ride. I was uneasy. What I loved about Gone Baby Gone was how the plot always focused on the case of the missing girl, no matter how and where it deviated. Here, I wasn't sure what the focus was going to be, until Doug (Affleck) is given the task of keeping an eye on Claire (Hall) in case she remembers any key details of her abduction from the bank and reports them to the FBI. Of course he falls for her, and then it all becomes about Doug, the mess he's dug himself into and his attempts to redeem himself by loving Claire. Suddenly it's all about character and that's far more interesting and emotive.

The problem was it was Ben Affleck! I'm still not convinced by him as an actor, I just don't find him watchable - a dozen other actors could have played his part. And he was pointedly shown up by his on-screen brother Jeremy Renner, who was fantastically savage and hateful as 'Jem', but charismatic; he owned every scene. I was also surprisingly impressed with Blake Lively, who played coked up single mother slut effortlessly well, with a dirty twinkle in her eye. Shows she can portray more than just a whiny Serena Van Der Woodsen, and she may have a career ahead of her yet. She'll learn well from Rebecca Hall, who is a classy actress dripping charm, and she's wonderful in anything.

I thought the set pieces were electrifying, particularly the attack on the security van when the gang are hidden behind those poster-blazoned nun masks. The car chase sequence was heart stopping, and showed there was no need for flipping lorries or flying tanks to create amazing cinema. The heist at the end was wonderfully drawn out as well: with the gang having so far been one step ahead of the authorities, there is no prevailing sense of doom over the whole affair. You're enthralled as to who is going to come away the winner.

I wasn't too pleased with the ending - it was a bit cheap to think just because we've followed them throughout the film the gang members are the good guys, they are sympathetic, and they deserve to get away with the things they've done. They don't. Jem's shooting down was immensely satisfying, and a relief after a moment where Doug might jump in and save him. Doug's escape from the city and his fate because 'he has a dad in prison, a dead mother and a heart after all' was less gratifying. Why should he deserve his freedom and not the rest? He may never have put a bullet in someone, but he's culpable and responsible for the actions of everyone else. Claire should have bluffed him instead of helping him. The only thing which cools me slightly is realising this film was based on a book, and so they would have been bound to that ending rather than their own.

Overall it didn't feel as accomplished a film as Gone Baby Gone. This will be a strange thing to say but it felt 'lighter' somehow - as if the frothy love story deterred away from the more serious aspects of the plot. Ben Affleck's second film doesn't live up to his first but The Town still delivers in exhilarating action, convincing complex relationships and a last gasp breath to the finish. It's just a shame he's in it really...

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