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David Poland

By David Poland

On The Town

I like The Town.

Ben Affleck did a nice job doing two things he had never done before: shooting action and shooting himself as an actor.

The story is solid, but not very special. It’s yet another “last job” movie with familiar elements of “the new guy who is a bit psychotic” and “the hero who gets too close to forbidden fruit.” Still, we have seen the same stories in movies, on stage and in books forever and when we are fully engaged, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. And Affleck has good taste in actors. This makes up for many flaws…. even if Blake Lively is disastrously miscast and unable to make her character work.

But unlike Gone Baby Gone, there is almost nothing in The Town that doesn’t feel exactly like something we have seen before in one of a couple of dozen movies. And if I am referencing Heat and Lumet’s entire canon and more non-stop throughout the film, I’m thinking about the wrong movie.

So the question that is floating around post-TIFF is whether The Town is really an Oscar movie. The answer is simple. No way to know.

It looks like a fairly small group of films really competing this year and many will be less exceptional (box office, raw likability) than The Blind Side, which was (unfairly) mocked last year for being nominated. So ruling out this film is silly. It does match the sensibilities of The Academy membership. It is trying hard to be an early 70s style movie. And Gone Baby Gone, which I would rank a large step over this film, would have likely made a 10 film field in its year.

But… it’s nothing close to a lock. It is one of those films that will be in the mix. It won’t be a major actors’ film, but could be a SAG Ensemble movie, given the number of well-liked actors in the cast. Movies like Get Low, Made In Dagenham, Winter’s Bone, Biutiful, and The Kids Are All Right are going to be where the battle for The Town is, not in the top half of the vote getters. There are 2 or 3 unseen films that could make it a race for the last 3 slots for “smaller” films.

But even amongst the titles that I would consider near-locks in this field, a few of them are really just “good stories, well told.” But they also have another gear that The Town does not. The King’s Speech, for instance, feels like it will be there in the end. It’s not only a strong movie, but it is period, it’s stars have serious Oscar bona fides, and it feels triumphant in a demure way. Solid Oscar movie. On the other hand, as noted, some of the titles out there will be picked apart – as in , “I like this, but not that” – and perhaps The Town is a movie movie from start to finish and that pushes it forward.

We don’t know. But as usual, we in the prognostication game feel compelled to be more definitive about what is in front of us this week than befits the film.

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9 Responses to “On The Town”

  1. Hopscotch says:

    I feel nearly the exact same way. I enjoyed this movie, but wasn’t head over heals. And its hard not to think of Heat. Hard not to think Alec Baldwin in the Hamm role.

    I read the book that’s its based on and the film mostly stayed close to it…except the ending, which works a thousand times better in the book than the movie. The movie’s ending left a bad taste.

  2. chris says:

    I do think the subject matter is awfully similar to “GBG” but, in terms of direction, “The Town” is a significantly better film. That conversation between Affleck, Hall and Renner is electrifying and it has more to do with tempo, shot selection and reveals of information than it does the script.

  3. Dignan says:

    I thought Lively’s performance was the only really interesting or memorable part of the entire film. Odd that she’s being singled out as the lone bum note.

  4. I liked Lively too. It was Rebecca Hall who was miscast. Renner is the film’s best shot at a nod, period. Then Best Picture, which I have a feeling, it WILL be nominated for. Hard movie to dislike. I had a couple problems with it, it wasn’t perfect, but as Devin said, it’s a solid triple. Glad to see the tides are turning for my boy Ben Affleck. The J-Lo drama really fucked up his career for a few years. He’s always been a solid actor and it’s good to see him developing his skills as a filmmaker, although I do think Gone Baby Gone was a bit more haunting and had more depth than The Town…

  5. David Poland says:

    For me, Blake Lively was the only one who was caught trying to act. It’s a high drama character, but yeesh.

    And I’d say a solid double, perhaps considering third. But then again, our standards might be different as to what is third and what is home.

  6. Krillian says:

    I disagree with slamming Blake Lively too. I don’t remember seeing her do anything else, and I thought she fit right in here.

    I have not seen 150 films like these high-falutin’ critics who get to go to all the festivals. But of the 60 of 2010 I’ve seen, The Town is my #3 film of the year.

  7. Princess of Peace says:

    I liked The Town but I do not think it is a great or Oscar worthy film. But what I like is not always what the masses or the Academy likes.

    I wish that Biutiful would get in but it might be too much for the Academy and it is in Spanish. Well, maybe Bardem will get in for Best Actor.

  8. BrandonS says:

    Just saw it last night, and I thought the casting (and the direction of those actors) was the strongest part of the movie. Including Blake Lively and Rebecca Hall. And I love that you bring in an Oscar winner to play a single scene.

    Overall, I agree it didn’t have the depth or the moral complexity of Gone Baby Gone, but it felt more confident in the execution. I appreciated the trust placed in the audience for the opening heist – there were a few beats where I wasn’t sure exactly why they had to do what they were doing (a few of the “covering their tracks” bits), but it was clear THEY knew. Very little exposition, just professionals executing near-flawlessly.

    Somebody already mentioned the Affleck-Hall-Renner scene, which was outstanding. And the tag to the middle (car chase) heist, with the lone Boston PD officer, got the most audible crowd reaction I’ve heard in quite a while.

    Mark me down as into Ben Affleck, Director. If he finds material that lets him pull off the emotional weight of Gone Baby Gone with the developing skill set he showed here, I honestly think he’s capable of an all-time classic.

  9. mplo says:

    I’m pretty much a lonely voice in the wilderness here, as I feel differently about The Town than many, if not most people do. For starters, I read Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves, on which The Town was based, and I liked the book far better than the movie, which seemed like an extended made-for-TV and very cartoon-like film.

    The Town had the potential for being one of the all-time greats regarding movies, but fell woefully short of that potential for the following reasons:

    A) The scenes in the North End and Fenway Park were grossly overblown, with too much exploding on the screen, and the most unrealistic-looking car chases and car crashes and shoot-outs. Nobody could realistically survive those car crashes and shoot-outs.

    B) The fact that Ben Affleck and his assistant producer(s) wanted to cut the film down from four hours is totally understandable, but too much slip-shod, slap-happy editing was done, cutting too much out of the film and leaving too many unconnected dots, which, had they been connected, might’ve made this film more credible.

    C) The Boston accents, particularly on the part of Ben Affleck, were extremely overdone.

    D) The characters, overall, were paper-thin, and the chemistry between Affleck and Hall, was paltry, at best, and rather forced.

    E) The scene where Doug and Jem break into a housing project apartment where a couple of punks who’d thrown bottles at Claire as she was walking through the housing project to work resided, beat up and permanently crippled both of them, was not in the book, and it was an unnecessary scene, to boot. Roughing the two punks up a little bit would’ve been understandable, maybe, but Doug and Jem went too far when they permanently crippled them both, and then ordered them to “get out of Charlestown.”

    F) The ending of the movie, was rather saccharine..and phony, to boot. It would’ve been better if the ending had been different; Doug being caught and sent to prison, where he belonged, and Claire being criminally prosecuted, or put on some sort of probation herself for having abetted Doug and helped him get away.

    I also might add that I’m somewhat bothered by the message that The Town seems to send; that it’s OK to rob banks and armored cars, terrorize and endanger the lives and safety of innocent bank employees and customers at gunpoint, to abet these kinds of actions and behaviors, and to make total dupes of law enforcement officials who are trying their best to do what they’ve been assigned to do; bring guys like Doug MacRay and his men to justice.

    I also might add that the movie could’ve done with far less of the Doug/Claire romance, and further developed the characters and the bank heists. Too much emphasis was put on the Doug/Claire romance, and not enough on the heists. I liked the beginning of the film and the first heist, but after that, it began to rapidly go downhill for me.

    One is supposed to sympathize with and root for Doug because he managed to get away, and for Claire for having abetted Doug and helped him escape justice in this film, but I feel that I really cannot do so. Imo, Claire should’ve been more on her guard and not readily accepted a date from a perfect stranger, especially after being traumatized enough by the robbery and abduction to quit her job as a bank manager.

    Claire was also wrong to continue to have contact with Doug and to abet him in his crimes even after learning the truth about him, and after the Feds learned of the Doug/Claire relationship through a recorded phone conversation between them, and for keeping the duffel bag full of stolen money that Doug left for her, instead of turning it into the police, at least anonymously. My opinion of this film was formed after watching it several times–a couple of times in the theatres, and then afew more times, on DVD.

    The idea of a professional armed robber who’s also a wanted fugitive falling in love with, and defending a poor, scared, vulnerable female bank manager that he and his men robbed at gunpoint and then took as a hostage, from thugs who threw bottles at her is highly, highly implausible to me. That would never, ever happen in real life. I know the film is fiction, but come on…there’s got to be some reality in there, which seemed to be totally lacking in this film.

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And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

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