Archive for September, 2010

The Town

Saturday, September 25th, 2010—Film

The Town (USA 2010, Crime/Drama/Thriller), Writers: Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard; Director: Ben Affleck

I just read what I wrote about Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, and it’s pretty well in line with what I have to say about his sophomore effort, The Town. In a nutshell, The Town is a more sophisticated exploration of Boston’s criminal underworld, and offers a wonderful look at Affleck’s progression as a director.

Set in Boston’s Charlestown neighbourhood—a “breeding ground for bank and armoured-car robbers”—the movie follows a gang of “townies” who carry on the family tradition of lifting from area banks, and the FBI agents who are sworn to stop them. It opens with the crew of costumed thugs, including ringleaders Doug MacRay (Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), making their latest hit. Led by Doug, the men rob the bank and make off with its manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as collateral.

Claire is released physically unharmed, but suffers the obvious psychological and emotional trauma of being kidnapped by armed robbers. As Doug and his team plan their next hit, he keeps an eye on Claire to determine whether or not she’s a threat—a “loose end” that needs to be tied off. It isn’t long before Doug falls for her and the two begin a relationship, with Claire unaware of his true identity.

The Town is based on Chuck Hogan’s prize-winning 2005 novel Prince of Thieves. Affleck co-wrote the screenplay, teaming up again with his Gone Baby Gone co-writer Aaron Stockard. As bank heist tales go, The Town’s storyline is utterly predictable, but it’s well written with a keen ear for dialogue and dialect. As director, Affleck does a very good job at creating tension. I love his decision to cut between the security camera footage and the live event during the opening robbery. With The Town, he irrefutably proves to be just as comfortable directing action as intimate moments between lovers.

As with his first film, Affleck also shows a gift for assembling a fabulous cast and eliciting wonderful performances. The ensemble includes heavyweights Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite, as well as two of my new favourite actors—Renner, who was phenomenal in The Hurt Locker, and Hall, so very good in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I have only one main gripe about The Town. At its heart, the film seems to be about what happens when people try to break free of the life that has defined them, and whether it’s possible to truly make that break. But this theme is somewhat glossed over to make room for the FBI investigation, the cool shoot-outs and the love story, all of which somewhat lessens The Town’s impact for me.

Still, it’s a well-made film—one I’d see again, and one I liked even better than Gone Baby Gone. Affleck seems to have found his place in the industry, and it fits him very well. I look forward to his next film. And the one after that, and…

The Road

Sunday, September 5th, 2010—Film

The Road (USA 2009, Adventure/Drama/Thriller), Writer: Joe Penhall; Director: John Hillcoat

I was talking about The Road with a friend last week. We were trying to figure out what kind of mood you need to be in to want to see a film that’s so devastating, but still be cheerful enough that you won’t be wrecked by it. I guess I got to that place this weekend, because I finally rented The Road after thinking about watching it for the past few months.

As it turns out, I was right to be wary of the film’s impact. The Road is massively upsetting. I’ve never cried so much over a movie. But throughout the sadness, I was still able to appreciate its beauty: the stark, heartbreaking imagery; wonderful production design; and performances by two of the most gifted and profound actors working today—Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron.

The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (and which I now can’t wait to read). It begins several years after an unnamed catastrophe has killed most of life, and very nearly all of humanity, on Earth. A Man (Mortensen) and his Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are headed south, as per the instructions given by Boy’s mother, Woman (Theron), before the three parted ways. We don’t know where they started, only that they’re on the road to finding somewhere better than that—if anything better still exists.

As post-apocalyptic tales go, the story arc is fairly predictable. Man and Boy run into the characters and situations you’d probably expect: bad people who pillage and cannibalize; good people like Man and Boy, desperate and struggling to survive; times of illness and famine; and, occasionally, moments of good fortune when they find canned goods and even a place to bathe.

In spite of its simplicity, The Road is so expertly crafted that it still hits home in a searing, powerful way. Man and Woman are faced with horrific choices no parent should ever have to make. It’s a sick world when parents must decide whether the best way to protect their child is to kill him; when a father could just as easily pull the trigger on his son as pull him into an embrace.

Woman is already pregnant when the world begins to die. When her water breaks, she has only one word: “No.” She doesn’t want to do it anymore. But there isn’t a choice. Boy’s birth marks the beginning of an endless string of acts the family must carry out even though they don’t want to. Each one is captured exquisitely, understatedly and poetically.

I loved every moment of The Road. The cinematography is stunning. The score somehow inserts glimmers of hope, without ever ruining the dark and somber tone. The cast is great; when you have Guy Pearce and Molly Parker take on microscopic roles, you know you’re watching a film worth being part of. Theron has a supporting role, but she plays it flawlessly and with the same depth she brought to Monster and North Country. Mortensen is perfect for the role of Man.

The Road may be straightforward, but we’re taken along it in such a way that its devastation becomes real and clear. Brief flashbacks intrude on the narrative now and then, slivers of the past that break through the grim present. The sound effects and voice-overs that accompany the end credits are subtle but harrowing, remnants of a world left behind, reminders of what we might still have.

If you find yourself in a place where you can handle a movie like this, I highly recommend The Road. It’s artful, thoughtful and thought provoking; a deeply moving film that gets its point across without ever climbing up on a soapbox.