Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Affleck Redemption

Does Ben Affleck want to be the next Clint Eastwood? Epic leading man turned serious director? Having won an Oscar for penning Good Will Hunting, he has points to his name. However, the Ben Affleck I know in my mind is one of annoyance that is somewhat difficult to ignore. For years now, Mr Affleck hasn't been much more to me than a big-chinned semi-dudd. We cross paths briefly and amusingly during my annual Michael Bay movie marathons, and he has a bit part in my love affair with Matt Damon.  Then, he became the lesser Affleck, the Affleck in the background, making room for the greater Affleck, Casey.

That is, until he directed Gone Baby Gone, starring his Greater Affleck younger brother. "Well done, Ben!", I thought. "The road to redemption is long and fraught with peril, but may the filmic gods smile down on you!" ... and you know what? Ol' Big Chin has made some considerable ground on that journey with his latest (sophomore, if you will) offering, the Boston-set crime thriller The Town.

It's been decided. I'm going to Boston. I need to hear this accent IRL.

Not only has Affleck directed and co-written this tightly wound, suspenseful winner of a film, but he also has cast himself in the role of brooding leading man. I tip my hat to that, most definitely. Well done Ben, indeed.

The titular "town" of the film is that of Charlestown, a suburb of Boston that the opening titles claim has produced more bank robbers and car jackers than any other place in the world. Or was it America? I can't remember. That claim to fame may or may not be true, but certainly the Charlestown that the film places us the audience in is that of a rough, loyal and well and truly Irish neighbourhood in which trouble with the law is a rite of passage.

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a seasoned bank robber and leader of a four-piece heist crew. This crew includes Jim Coughlin, portrayed superbly by Jeremy Renner, the closest thing Doug has to a brother. Blake Lively is Jim's trashy slut sister Krista, and Doug's ex-flame. (I'll say this now; Blake Lively is (in my opinion) the weakest link of The Town. And it's not because I find her mildly irritating in Gossip Girl. Her boobs are nice yes, but at times her accent sounded almost Russian. Ugh.)

Anyway. The boys hold up a bank at the film's opening, setting off the inevitable chain reaction of events that gives one that sinking feeling that says, "this ain't gonna end well."

Thanks to Jim's role as the renegade-wildcard-loose cannon of the ensemble, the boys take themselves a hostage during the initial bank robbery, the manager of said bank, Claire (Rebecca Hall). To make sure she hasn't seen anything, or said too much to the feds, Doug follows her. They soon - of course - begin a relationship that only serves to deepen that ominous, sinking feeling in one's stomach. Hot on the heels of Doug and co. is FBI agent Frawley, Mad Men's Jon Hamm. Rounding out the cast (and certainly worthy of mention) are Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper.

The Town is pretty dense. Never a dull moment, with the tension tightly wound almost constantly. The film is at its best during the action, with the bank robberies and car chases well-executed and pretty fooking exciting. I mean, they're nothing mind-blowingly amazing, but they really did have me on the edge of my seat. It's a little Michael Mann, it's pretty win.

Chiseled jawlines abound in The Town.

And surprisingly (for me at least), the romantic scenes and storylines were far from irritating or spew-worthy. This is mostly due to Rebecca Hall being completely charming (and having a fucking great smile), and Affleck's thankfully rather more understated performance than say ... Armageddon. Well done, Ben. Speaking of the acting in The Town, it's really rather fucking good (Blake Lively aside). Affleck as I just mentioned, gives one of the best performances he's managed in years. His Doug goes from aggressive to remorseful to redemptive over the course of the film, without hitting the audience over the head with the change. Pete Postlethwaite is superbly menacing as the neighbourhood head honcho, and lights up the screen during his short time on it. Jon Hamm is solid as the FBI agent. But to this nerd, the real cheers on the film deserves to go to Jeremy Renner. It's no secret that I've been somewhat in love with him ever since The Hurt Locker ... but his Jim Coughlin, to me, steals the show. He's aggressive, loyal, a loose cannon that keeps the audience tense, wondering what the hell he's going to do next.

I may have a couple of gripes with the last three minutes or so of the film, but shit son, I gotta tip my hat to Ben Affleck. To someone who has probably immediately written off any poster with his name on it as rubbish for the past ten years ago, he has risen a considerable amount in my filmic esteem. The Town is a literate, mature, admirable directorial effort, with a result that is thoroughly entertaining and really, really tense. Gone Baby Gone wasn't a fluke, and Mr Affleck is back on the road to tinsel town redemption.

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