Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Town (2010) – Review

The Town is a heist film more concerned with its characters than the action or crime aspects, but this is a good thing. The film does have well shot and exciting action scenes (the end reminded me a lot of Heat). But it is clear that director Ben Affleck did not set out to make a film about larceny or about the robbers that commit them – he made a film about people that happen to be criminals and those that interact with them (the film is about the characters, not what they do). And while the action scenes are good and play well, it is the scenes that delve into the characters and their emotions that are the most engaging and ultimately elevate the film. In particular the scene between main character, Doug MacRay, and his father is expertly executed further connecting the audience with MacRay and thus making his actions and outcome matter. The scenes between Doug and Claire (his romantic interest) are also very good. Their relationship is really the crux of the narrative, and it is beautifully done. It is interesting that a film seemingly sold on its heist and action features would be more about the relationships between the characters with everything else merely just being the world and lives they inhabit. Affleck loves all his characters; and the viewer can see that in how the camera is used – Affleck seems to place his camera in a grey area. It is neither too close to the action to make the audience feel involved or too far to be fully detached and voyeuristic. Affleck creates an intimate feel, but at a slight and safe distance. He employed the same style with his first film, Gone Baby Gone, but here since the film was sold on action (to some extent) the audience is not sure what to feel during the down time. They came in amped, but most of the film is paced slowly with a building tension as MacRay and Claire’s relationship is plainly doomed. Everyone knows there is going to be a big action set piece at the end – the Hollywood system deems it so – but the narrative structure that Affleck utilizes, one of a character drama explored through budding and conflicting relationships, clashes a bit with audience expectations. Affleck also uses a lot of shots of the city to transition between scenes (a common practice in film and especially TV) seemingly to give pause and perspective both on the narrative and to physically see the neighborhood that the characters are from, which again goes back to the film being about these people, and where they are from. However, the net effect of these transitions and the structure and shooting style of the film is that it plays a bit flat at times. It would be interesting to see how it would play if the audience went in expecting a serious character drama. Overall, The Town is both a very good character piece and a good heist film (though the former is given much more attention than the later).

On to the technical achievements: Ben Affleck again reminds everyone that he is both a very talented actor, but also an adept writer and director (not that he needed to as Gone Baby Gone is a good film too). The film served as a coming out party a bit for Affleck as a director, as his first film was not widely seen due to its limited release and low profile for the general movie-going audience.  He is at his best as a director in capturing intimate and wonderful performances. His collaboration with cinematographer Robert Elswit (check out LeapBackBlog’s feature on him) is interesting as it is subdued a bit. Elswit does not go for too gritty a look, but it is not glossy either. Much like the camera placement, the look of the film finds a place in-between (though, closer to gritty) and the characters are lighted expertly by Elswit –they do not appear so much as actors, but as real people, while still looking good. The norm, it seems, for these types of films is for them to be shot in a gritty Greengrass-esque style, but Affleck stays true to his style, and the film benefits greatly as a result. Sharon Seymour’s production design and the score by David Buckley and Harry Gregson-Williams compliment the tone and feel authentic to the film. The Town needed to have fantastic performances to work. Affleck turns in his best work, possibly of his career, but certainly in a long time. He has always been a good dramatic actor (Hollywood just wanted him to be an action star). Rebecca Hall, as usual, is also very good, playing her role with fragility masking true strength within. She is good enough to turn action seekers into viewers ready for a character drama. Jeremy Renner, coming off an Oscar nod, is lush with emotion and range. He commands the screen and attention as he is ripe with tension inducing spontaneity. Chris Cooper, while not having much screen-time, makes a huge impact in the narrative. Jon Hamm and Blake Lively seem out of place, based solely on associating them with their respective TV shows, but like the rest of the cast are good and fit in well. Pete Postlethwaite somehow makes himself seem tough and scary despite being a flouriest and an older man. Affleck assembled one of the best cast and crew of any film this year, and that translates to a fantastically well made film full of excellent performances.

The Town has great heist-action, but it is the character relationships that make it impressive. 8/10

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