As we glide so inexorably into the fall season, I’m starting to see trailers for movies that I may or may not go to later in the year. The art of the trailer is a whole ‘nother thing I could go on about for awhile (and probably will in another blog post) but I just wanted to say I found myself praying for death while watching the trailers in front of The Town.
One was for the new movie from Florian Von Donnersmark, the German director of The Lives of Others, one of the best films to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar in recent years. There is a lengthy list of talented European directors once lured to make Hollywood projects only to fall on their faces when forced to deal with heavy-handed studio meddling, demanding stars and projects with massive budgets. Keep that in mind if you take in The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie as the scarlet-lipped femme fatale who meets a disheveled Johnny Depp on a train to Venice. It appears there are bad men after her, led by a guy who’s in danger of being typecast as an asshole, Paul Bettany. We then get scenes of Depp playing the more cowardly side of his persona, something we see periodically in those pirate movies, which is fine since there’s so much more to Capt. Jack Sparrow, but we also saw it in Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Sleepy Hollow and The Ninth Gate, where it got a little tiresome. Let’s hope there’s more charm in this character than fear. I’m not sure I’m ready to see a slapstick comedy spy movie from this filmmaker or these performers. And is it just me, or does Depp look particularly rough in this? The beard isn’t working, for one. And Stephen Berkoff is playing a villain again? Every time I see him I think of Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop and Kristin Scott Thomas’ mean dad in Under The Cherry Moon.
So, then we were treated to the trailer for another dire formula romcom with Katherine Heigl and some bland, square-jawed male lead, followed by the new Paul Haggis thriller, The Next Three Days, which makes the sadly typical mistake of giving away too much of the plot of the movie. It it, Russell Crowe is married to Elizabeth Banks (!) who is sent to jail, presumably for a crime she didn’t commit. But this isn’t a gender-switching version of the upcoming Hilary Swank/Sam Rockwell prison drama Conviction, it’s about Crowe deciding to break his wife out of prison, getting advice on the matter from Liam Neeson. As one does. We see that he succeeds in the breakout in a percussive montage of action moments, which I guess only leaves their final fate of the couple (and their kid) in doubt to create any kind of suspense for the viewer. (Should I have said this is a spoilerific point? Hell, if the trailer gives away these details, I think I can, too.)
And then there was the new Clint Eastwood-directed drama Hereafter, about Matt Damon as a psychic who “doesn’t even do this anymore.” The opening shot of someone floating in water is included, no doubt, to draw audience recollections of the opening shot of The Bourne Identity, which almost every movie Damon is in these days, whether it has even the slightest thematic connection to the smash trilogy, tries to connect somehow anyway. This seems like strange material for Eastwood and Damon. I’ve got lots of time for them both, so will give it a try, but again, I wasn’t enthused by the marketing.
OK, so. The Town.
After Gone Baby Gone, I had a sense of what to expect from director Ben Affleck. Unfussy, well-made genre filmmaking, with the genre being crime drama, Boston-centric. Tonally, The Town isn’t a far cry from his first, and easily as satisfying a movie.
In it, we have Affleck as Doug MacRay, a career criminal who gets by successfully robbing banks and armoured trucks in the Charlestown area of Boston with three of his buddies, including loose-cannon Jim (Jeremy Renner). Doug used to be romantic with Jim’s strung-out sister Krista (Blake Lively, stretching visibly) and still can fit her in for some mechanical sex. However, during one of the robberies, they take a hostage, Claire (Rebecca Hall, solid) who they later let go unharmed, but while Doug checks up on her, he and Claire meet and get friendly. So, the drama comes from Claire offering some kind of redemption for Doug, though we know it’s doomed: eventually he’ll have to own up about his work and how they really first met. That’s if he doesn’t first get spotted by his buddies while out on a date, or shot and killed by the FBI while he continues his life of crime. The Feds are led by the gung ho agent Frawley (John Hamm, refreshingly not Draper-esque).
Again, Affleck delivers the right amount of tension, a believably authentic Boston street vibe and patois. If there are moments that stretch credulity—Doug knows just where and when to find a local thug who’s been giving his new girl some trouble—it all moves at a pace that keeps the viewer engaged. Doug himself is maybe just a little too likable—but then Affleck is generally a big teddy bear on screen, even when he’s trying to be tough—and Renner isn’t quite unhinged enough to be dangerous. (He was much more frightening in The Hurt Locker.) In a cameo, Doug’s jailbird father played by Chris Cooper gets to chew some nice dialogue: “I gotta die five times before I get outta here. I’ll see you again, on this side or the other.” And the always reliable Pete Postlethwaite gets a good bite out of his three-scene role.
In this film’s DNA is both the Irish-American gangster picture State of Grace and Michael Mann’s Heat, and while it hasn’t the Shakespearean drama of the former nor the epic scale of the latter, it’s an entertaining and satisfying little thriller, and guarantees I’ll see more of what Affleck does behind the camera, especially if he sticks to this kind of story—he also co-wrote the script for this one.