Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Town

Perhaps, as a critic – a pseudo / amateur one, but still – I should take it upon myself to actually do some research about the movie I’m about to see. But, I like the thrill of having no idea about anything. Unwittingly, I saw The Departed one hour before I saw The Town and I ended up (inadvertently) musing over the Bostonian accents. I wasn’t particularly anxious to see The Town, although truth be told I’m not anxious about many films this year. I was already feeling overly cynical the day I watched it, so I think that may have ended up rubbing off on overall view of it. I couldn’t disregard the fact that The Town was obviously a movie - which in the strictest of senses it is, so that doesn’t make for a legitimate criticism. I should probably qualify that statement by saying that it was a movie that was obviously trying (hard) to be profound.
It begins with a bank robbery, it doesn’t go completely awry but it doesn’t go as planned and a hostage is taken. And the story spirals out of control from there. Something that struck me in a roundabout way about The Town was how many actors in it I was apathetic to. From the generally bland Ben Affleck; Jeremy Renner, who I don’t particularly care for; Jon Hamm who’s brilliant as Don Draper but generally bores me; Blake Lively; Rebecca Hall and on and on. The Town is not a character study, at least it doesn’t come off as such though I have a knowing feeling that it might be trying to be. There’s a subtly running theme throughout about Affleck’s Doug’s mother leaving him as a child. While telling Rebecca Hall’s Claire about the incident he tells her (twice) that he was in his underwear when he found out his mother had left. It’s nothing striking in particular, but the overemphasis on detail comes off as a little weird because – like elsewhere in the movie – it doesn’t present us with any any salient information. Whereas, where it’s necessary the information we receive is garbled.

There’s an urgency that pervades the investigation into the bank robbery that’s vaguely ambiguous. I’m never certain why the situation is as chronic as it’s made out to be, especially when we’re made to believe that this sort of occurrence is rote in Charlestown. Affleck seems intent on making The Town a sort of fable on American existence, what with the title cards at the beginning and whatnot; but the story he’s carved doesn’t seem to have any significance beyond the 100 minutes or so it exists on the screen for, the movie’s sort of ephemeral that way; which isn’t to say it’s forgettable. Well, not really...

For this sort of story to work in an allegorical manner – as Affleck seems to intend – it has to work as an ensemble piece, and it doesn’t. Affleck is the only one given the opportunity to do any reflective character work. The supporting players end up becoming obvious vignettes. Jeremy Renner’s entire performance seems to be parts of something bigger, even though he does brilliantly with what he’s given; it doesn’t bode as well for Hamm who seems unsure whether to play his cop as a cold-hearted lawmaker, or an emphatic one. Rebecca Hall should seem more significant, but she ends up seeming like a de facto accessory. She has the most lines (other than Affleck) but we know the least about her; conversely we end up learning much about Blake Lively’s Krista but it doesn’t really seem to have any bearing to the plot – her character ends up feeling extraneous (even though it’s proof she can play more than a bore). The moments I paid keenest attention to were the few moments with Chris Cooper in a jail scene. It’s scene that does little except add more information that we don’t necessarily need but Cooper’s sort of brilliant that way in giving us glimpses at a completely different movie, and one that I’d probably have been more interested in seeing.
But it could have been much worse...
(B-? )C+


rtm said...

Great analysis, Andrew, I haven't got around to reviewing this yet. I thought this was a compelling sophomore effort from Affleck, though Gone Baby Gone packs a lot more punch. I too feel that Rebecca Hall's character is a bit underdeveloped and it just seems so 'convenient' that she doesn't have a boyfriend or even anyone she could confide with in regards to the robbery, which makes it so easy for Affleck's character to offer a shoulder to cry on.

I'm not one who'd jump into the 'Jeremy Renner is phenomenal' bandwagon, wasn't blown away by Hurt Locker at all and I thought he plays a similar character here. Cooper is brilliant, I agree, his scenes were powerful that I wish there's more to his character than what Affleck let on.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

rtm whoa, that's some heavy praise...especially since i considered taking this down as soon as i posted it, it just seemed awful to me, but whatev. on renner, i have a slight divide to him: i admire him, but i don't like him. i don't think he's brilliant considering that he doesn't get much to play one but he's not brilliant in the larger sense. i'd still call him the strongest performer of the film, because cooper (though excellent) just has a cameo.

(and totally with you on rebecca's character.)

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah, buddy, I think you're mis-reading this one through the haze of "The Departed" and your own ambivalence toward the actors (Jeremy Renner's playing the same character as in "Hurt Locker," rtm? WHAT?). I dunno. I despise Affleck as an actor, but acknowledge that he can be good in the right role. But, I still try to walk into a movie with fresh eyes...I mean, really fresh eyes, not just reading reviews of movies I'm everybody a blank slate before I walk in. If it's more of the same, my past associations are pertinent. But if they're doing something I haven't seen before...I gotta say it, whatever they've done in the past. Affleck, the film-maker, aspires to higher things and this go-'round he wanted to make an action picture, which he did superbly, I thought. But, an action picture that had some depth to it, beyond "Johnny's betrayin' us, let's rat him out" kind of conflict that is the rote for this kind of thing. It's a good thing, I think, to have a Nature vs. Nurture argument in a bank-heist movie, which is why I gave props to "The Town," not as high as "Gone Baby Gone," but props, nonetheless.

(And my scribbled notes on "The Town" has the "underoos" scene as a definite "Don't Make a Scene")

rtm said...

Well to each their own Yojimbo, but that's how I felt when I walked out of the theater. I'm not dissing Renner completely, but Casey Affleck impressed me more in Gone Baby Gone.

Andrew, that's an interesting sentiment about admiring someone but not liking him... you can write a whole post on that one :)