Thursday, January 20, 2011

We Love...The Town from Film Ireland

Ben Affleck’s second film as a director The Town allayed the doubts of any sceptics. Gone Baby Gone (2007) was an ambitious, impressive debut which pulled some brilliant performances from its cast and told a complex story deftly. This time Affleck upped the ante by not only directing The Town but also starring in the film. The Town is a pleasant surprise as it is not only a perfect showcase for Affleck’s powerful filmmaking skills but the role proves he is much more than chiselled features and a cheeky grin. Due to some poor choices in the past, Ben Affleck is rarely given much credit for his acting skills but here he provides a mix of likeability and classic Hollywood charisma. He has proven withThe Townthat he is certainly next in line to Eastwood’s throne as the King of the Actor/Directors, not that Eastwood shows any signs of hanging up his crown just yet.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, The Town is a classic heist setup. Doug (Affleck) is a nice guy born on the wrong side of the tracks into an area of Boston where bank robbers seem to be bred from generation to generation. He is convinced to do one last job but things get complicated when they take Claire, a smart, sexy bank manager (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage. Doug is sent to seduce her in the hope that he might find out what she is telling the FBI but he soon becomes enamoured of her, jeopardising the relationships between the gang.
This is a pretty generic story but what makes this film special is that it does not revel in the lifestyle of these people. The world that is built in the film is not the cocaine-fuelled high-life of gangsters á la Goodfellas;these are blue collar, working-class men who were raised in this lifestyle and rob banks like expert scamps, giddy on the adrenaline and unaffected by the presence of the law. ‘The Law’ in this case is represented by FBI agents Frawley (Jon Hamm), a prejudiced and jaded bureaucrat and Ciampa (Titus Welliver), a former resident of Charlestown, now sympathetic turncoat. The complex dynamic of cop and robber is brilliantly evolved due to the delicate balance of where our sympathies lie.
As the story progresses and the relationship between Doug and Claire deepens the tension mounts as Doug becomes more and more tangled in the web of family and neighbourhood ties he is stuck in.
There are three major action sequences in the films, the first being Claire’s bank which is thrilling, and frightening in its brutality (undoubtedly influenced by Nolan’s opening scene inThe Dark Knight). The second action sequence is a post-robbery car chase through Boston’s winding, hilly, North End. I’m not usual one for car chases but I cherished this one as a one-of-a-kind action sequence that got every element perfect for cinematic thrills. The blue-collar nature of The Town ensures a creeping sense that life is cheap and happy endings are not guaranteed, giving this film an added layer of turmoil.
The final action set piece is a brazen robbery of Fenway Park. A brilliant sequence, the story of this one robbery in all its intricacy is like a film all to itself. It also leads to the film’s final showdown and thrilling climax which is so packed with energy and cinematic tension that it became clear that this is the year’s best thriller by a mile (take that, Lisabeth Salander!).
In a film that plays with notions of heroes and villains, kudos must go to the recently deceased Pete Postlethwaite for his slimy portrayal of the only clear evil bastard of the film, Fergie the florist; a wonderfully memorable monster whose villainous ways are delightfully menacing and gut-wrenchingly hateful. Never has rose-stem snipping been more terrifying. A fitting end to a great career!
I’ve never found myself a lover of gangster films or heist films. In fact, I usually find it difficult to connect with them at all. The Town is, for some reason or another, a welcome exception. Perhaps it was the fact that I could buy into the lifestyle as a bread-and-butter means to an end rather than a hedonistic pursuit of money and cocaine or perhaps it’s the community of characters that is so deftly woven together or maybe it’s just the sum of all its parts; acting, writing, directing, pacing adding up to a superior cinematic experience. In a year full of extremes of good and bad films, The Town proudly stands with the best of them as an example of how classy a genre film can be with the right talent involved.

 - Charlene Lydon

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