Monday, October 11, 2010

On the Big Screen

The Town
dir. Ben Affleck (2010)

Yesterday I caught the latest Affleck vehicle (he stars as well as directing and co-writing, so if you don't like the film you know who to write to).  In many ways it's wholly formulaic - a heist movie in which Affleck is a bank robber trying to go straight after one last job, which he takes on against his better judgement.  He falls in love with the manager of one the banks he's robbed (played with luminous appeal by Rebecca Hall) and of course this proves to be redemptive*.  The robbery does not, of course, go according to plan, and Affleck is forced to scramble for his life.  The ending, if not exactly happy, is appropriate and gives overtones of a brighter future.

You've seen this a hundred times before and yet--somehow--The Town is a scorching film.  Affleck manages at once to be level-headed, capable and yet vulnerable.  The blue collar Boston environment is vivid and believable.  This being Affleck's film, the audience's sympathy is with him, but unusually for the "villain as hero" genre, the police chasing him are not portrayed as bungling or corrupt: they're professionals with a job to do, and Jon Hamm as the FBI man always has our respect even as we want him to fail.  The action sequences are directed with brio, and the central relationship between Affleck and Hall, while not exactly convincing, is always compelling.

"Formulaic" is often thrown up as a criticism of films--and indeed books.  But what some see as a formula might more accurately be described as blending together elements which have been proven to work in the past.  What matters is the skill and vigour with which the ingredients are combined.  The Town might be formulaic--but so is Pride and Prejudice, so is The Big Sleep, so are Patrick O'Brian and Richard Stark.  If you don't like your dinner, blame the chef, not the ingredients.

I expected popcorn entertainment from The Town.  I found something rather better.  Highly recommended!

* I am no relationship expert, but this is not a dating strategy I would recommend

7 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

If something's not formulaic it's most often either pretentious or trying-too-hard, neither of which seem like glowing alternatives...

Tim Stretton said...

The formula's a problem when it's used as a checklist to design the structure from the outset.

But understanding that certain structural elements fit together in certain types of narrative shows that you understand the craft, not that you're a hack.

Matt Curran said...

Thanks Tim

I'll check this one out...

David Isaak said...

I'm happy to hear that it's good. I was quite impressed with his directorial chops in Gone, Baby, Gone, and glad to hear that it wasn't a fluke.

Verification word: Mutwases.

Aren't those some sort of Muslim clerics or edicts or something?

Alis said...

Unlike lots of people I quite like Ben Afleck as an actor, so I shall be checking this out - thanks Tim!

Donna Hole said...

I appreciate it when the good guys/bad guys are of equal skill. If the bad guy gets away (as it seems he should in this film), I like it to be b/c of informed decisions of the good guy.

When I read a novel - or watch a movie - I want to like the bad guy as much as the good guy. Bad guys have skills and character traits, and if they're supposed to be powerfully devious, well, I want to see that. It makes the hero have to "one up" the villian to accomplish the inevitable win.

This will go on my list of must see movies. Your awesome review asisde, what girl wouldn't want an excuse to sit and drool over Ben Affleck for two plus hours?

I stopped by after reading Nevets' review of THE DOG OF THE NORTH. Wow, sounds like my kind of novel. Its now in my TBR file, but I sure hope I can get to it within the next month. Nevets did an awesome review, but it would not have been so great if your writing and story wasn't well worth it.

I hope to write my own review soon - uh, anything in 3 months is soon to me, BTW.

.......dhole.

Tim Stretton said...

David,

I think the direction is the most impressive part of Affleck's portfolio in The Town. Takes something to make this plot/format fresh and involving.

Alis,

Affleck made some odd career choices a while back, but in recent years he's back on track. He's definitely a talent.

Donna,

I reckon you'll enjoy The Town. Can't comment on Ben Affleck's looks, but all the characters have plausible motivations, and Affleck doesn't load the dice. Hope you like Dog of the North too! Whatever else it may do wrong, it certainly doesn't give you cardboard villains...