On the Big Screen
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