Monday, 6 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Town

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Produced by:
Graham King
Basil Iwanyk

Screenplay by:
Ben Affleck
Peter Craig
Aaron Stockard

Based on:
Prince of Thieves
by Chuck Hogan

Ben Affleck
John Hamm
Rebecca Hall
Jeremy Renner
Blake Lively
Pete Postelwaite
Chris Cooper

Music by:
Harry Gregson-Williams
David Buckley

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Editing by: Dylan Tichenor

Legendary Pictures
GK Films
Thunder Road Film

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Release date(s): September 17, 2010

Running time: 125 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $37 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $142, 815, 941

This is such a typical thing for film lovers, be it critics, directors or just plain obsessive’s, but you really don't remember how good Citizen Kane is until you watch it again. Being obligatory on a Film Studies course, this was my third or fourth time watching it: (marks to anyone who gets the reference) it's terrific! Do see it if you can, it's pretty cheap if you want to buy a copy, but the best thing is not to think of the massive reputation.

In other news, the review topic here is The Town, and not Citizen Kane. The Town is the second directorial effort from Ben Affleck, whose career in recent years has enjoyed resurgence. Following on from the superb Gone Baby Gone, starring brother Casey Affleck, The Town sees Ben take on the roles this time of director, co-screenwriter and lead actor. The Town has been getting hype as one of the films of the year, receiving significant critical acclaim and a large box office return. After the success, whispers of 'Oscars' have surrounded the work, which has been compared favourably with Michael Mann's classic Heat.

The Town, named after the eponymous Charlestown, follows a group of Irish-American friends, Doug McCray (Ben Affleck), James 'Jem' Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert 'Gloansy' McGloan (Slaine) and Desmond 'Dez' Elden (Owen Burke) in their day-to-day lives. The only difference separating them from their neighbours is that they are a gang of bank-robbers working for 'Fergie' Colm (Pete Postelwaithe), and are under investigation by FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). They are an impenetrable unit of meticulous planning, but things go awry when Doug falls for Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager they took hostage, whose movements Doug follows in order to ensure she does not know enough to identify them to the police.

Opening the pros about The Town, the person who should be credited most for making this film work is Ben Affleck. With Gone Baby Gone, he handled a smaller film on his terms with skill, and The Town presents a new challenge for him. Taking on a project with a larger scale doesn’t seem to have been a problem, and he takes it in his stride. His work is efficient and solid, but not the type of well oiled machine that does not display awareness. The impression given is that Affleck has planned this film out carefully, making sure that he does not tread on any potential landmines. Also, perhaps most importantly, we can feel Affleck's genuine passion for the work, a feeling that resonates throughout, managing to brace the film at all points. Gone Baby Gone proved him once, and The Town has proved him twice as a director who is a force to be reckoned with.

Of note here is the stunning cinematography by Robert Elswit. Elswit has done some fantastic work for Paul Thomas Anderson, such as 2007's There Will Be Blood. The work on display in The Town is of a similar vein in its quality. During conversations, he creates landscapes of the actors’ faces, meaning that their faces can be seen to physically correspond with the emotional tempo of the dialogue being played out. He makes these scenes interesting from a technical standpoint. Also, the work he has done on the shootouts is wonderful. While Affleck has plotted these shootouts to perfection, up there with the best ever, Elswit captures their brilliance in a terrific manner. It is handled with intensity on DV, displaying reality that pulls you into the thick of the battle. Also, it is fantastic to be able to tell through the viewfinder that this is someone who knows how to use the format. Since the Bourne movies, we have seen so many pretenders attempt to use this format in shootouts and chases, but this is without question the best use of the format for this type of film in years.

This is starting to look like a list for the players in P.T. Anderson's crew, now that I'm bringing up The Town's editor Dylan Tichenor. Tichenor has had experience on four different P.T. Anderson films, all of which were shot by Robert Elswit. It is clear that there is a relationship and rapport in the way these two work in unison: Elswit shoots a great film, while Tichenor cuts a great film. The editing is fast and concise, maintaining a rapid pace even at moments of respite, giving the film an aura of tension. Though rapid, the pace created by the editing isn’t too rapid for its own good. We still get an idea of what is going on story wise, despite the thorough bombardment of information that is bestowed upon the audience. Also, whenever the scenes become more intense, such as the shootouts, despite accelerated pace, we can still receive the information. From both this aspect and the cinematography, The Town is excellent in its technical prowess.

Seeing as how I'm spending much time harping about the shootouts, I suppose it’s due to dedicate some time to the little tidbits. The choreographers have done a great job in giving the actors the right directions and setups. There is an intense realism, and it is obvious that plotting out was precise. It contributes greatly to the actors whenever things are choreographed so well that they are able to relax and 'act', as well as running around shooting things. For this liberation and contribution, they must be saluted. Speaking of which, the actors do a tremendous physical job in these scenes. It must be very hard to 'act' while running around with weapons and wearing masks, so fair dues for doing a good job. Finally, the sound effects team does their work with what seems to be sick pleasure. Each of the gunshots and crashes seems picked for either their loudness, to crank up the tension meter or both. Sound is vital in the success of these scenes, their contribution key. The shootouts and whether or not they are plausible, being a 'real world film', rely upon the sound. Gunshots are booming and loud enough to put you in palpitations, for you do feel that you are there. The shootouts in The Town are the best in a long time.

In many senses, The Town is a wonderful film. However, there are a number of fundamental flaws that stab rather large holes in the entire structure of the work, not just minor flaws excusable in the context of a great film. First and foremost is the script. Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard have written something that is large in scope and layered. The most obvious reference point, bar the source novel (Prince Of Thieves by Chuck Hogan), is Heat, a movie of such density. On the surface, The Town is a drama/thriller crime epic with a lot of depth. However, there is a big problem when it comes down to the second main layer, thematic content. The thematic content is not translated onto screen appropriately. You do get the impression, harsh as it may sound, that the film was made for one viewing. I got the thematic content they were aiming for, but it comes across in the wrong way. There is no consistency in the content, for at certain points, its all first-layer surface level stuff, and then there are lapses into 'this is the "Hmmmm, that is interesting, let's think about it."' It is a hard juggling task, but this is not written as well as the rest of the script. Also, it must be said, that while the surface level story is not original, it is handled well. However, it is made more problematic whenever there is a lack of thematic content to lean back on. Structurally also it is problematic. The balancing beam is not handled well, with large sections of pure exposition dedicated to certain sections, while incidental scenes are left to the sideline. It is unfortunate that a film made as well as this possesses such a flawed script.

Another of the major problems comes from the acting. The cast is clearly trying their hardest, and judging from their track records I don't doubt it. However, despite their earnest efforts, you do not get the impression of any great performances. Affleck, who has the meatiest role, gives the best of the performances and gets away with it for the most part, but the supporting actors, such as Hall and Hamm, do not do enough to convey their characters as fully rounded. Perhaps they would need more screen time to do so, as Affleck dominates the screen and gives the better performance for it, but these two don't do enough. They are among the supporting cast that gets a larger amount of screen time. Chris Cooper gets one scene and manages to convince us as a real 'in the flesh' character. Hall and Hamm have so much more screen time, yet we don't the impression that their characters are fully rounded. Although their examples are on one extreme, the whole cast, Affleck included (which does pain me because he really does go for it), lack the fine performances that a film of this weight requires.

The Town is in so many ways a great film. Ben Affleck has done an excellent job in directing this film with as much skill as he does. It speaks highly of him that despite a fundamentally flawed script, he can steer this ship in the right directions. He is a filmmaker of superior talents who has more great films up his sleeve. Also, from a technical standpoint, cinematography and editing are superb. Finally, the shootouts are terrific and the best I have seen since Public Enemies (a correction from the Bourne movies). However, The Town, due to the script and the acting, is full of flaws, and while being a very good film, does not quite live up to the bar that it sets itself.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Inbetweenies

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