Saturday, September 18, 2010

Now Starring: Stubble!

A milestone on my journey from young man to old man: the moment where I realized that not shaving for a day did not confer on me a certain virile something but rather made me look like a serial killer, like Ed Gein's fat brother.

That was a decade ago, but it was what popped to mind as I began watching Ben Affleck's new film The Town: he has managed to cast a bunch of stubbled faces before they've passed this mark. But I digress before I've begun.

The Town stars Affleck as Doug MacRay, one of a band of men out of the rough-and-tumble Boston neighborhood of Charlestown who plan and execute bank robberies. The group's latest robbery runs slightly awry, and they briefly take a precautionary hostage, assistant bank manager Claire Keesey (played by Rebecca Hall). Afterwards the boys discover from Keesey's driver's license that she lives right underneath their noses in Charlestown. This is not good for her. Though the men do the deed disguised in masks, the possibility that the woman might recognize any of them makes her a problem which must be dealt with. When MacRay sees that his partner Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is determined to kill the woman, MacRay insists on taking care of the issue himself. He wants not to escalate their criminal enterprises in this way, and he sets off to do he knows not what--just something less than what Coughlin intended. And alas, when he meets Keesey he finds himself drawn to her vulnerability and her calm and open demeanor. Houston, we have a problem. And when she later reveals to MacRay that she has been interviewed by the FBI and knows things about the robbery she hasn't told them, then we REALLY have a problem--and especially when Coughlin finds the two of them having lunch together. MacRay has fallen in love with the one person who could spell the demise of the group.

Affleck also directed The Town, and I wonder if Ben Affleck isn't the Clint Eastwood of our day (not that the real Clint Eastwood isn't still with us, of course). He is a competent actor of some range, and he shows a great confidence and a steady hand behind the camera. He's working here from his comfort base out of the mean streets of Boston (from whence he also directed Gone, Baby, Gone, which starred his brother Casey), and he captures the grit of the poorer part of town and its working-class inhabitants in both image and language--he takes top screenwriter credit, with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. The film is more suspense drama than action film, though there's plenty to keep most people glued to the screen. Performances are fabulous all around; I especially like the old-timers, Chris Cooper as MacRay's father, and the sinewy Pete Postlethwaite as the local crime lord (Postlethwaite almost looks to be in ill health, he is so scrawny). And Rebecca Hall is wonderfully understated. I wasn't immediately sold on Jon Hamm (familiar to the world from the series Mad Men) as the pesky FBI agent spearheading the fight against the gang, but he eventually came into his own. I might personally have cast someone less beautiful--like, say, Brendan Gleeson--but hey, Affleck appears to be doing quite well without my help.

And the five o'clock shadows never looked so good. One gets the impression that a shave for Affleck lasts about 15 minutes. Like a real man. (But George Clooney in The American reminds us that even beautiful men can look grizzled if care is not taken!)

I saw the film in a state-of-the-art digital theater in L.A., which was lovely; but the resources dedicated to a bone-marrow-boiling volume of sound seems a little silly. The interior bits of the building actually rattled with the volume. I kind of regret not wearing earplugs. But don't let that keep you away.

Grade: A-


Jon said...

Good review! Its on the list for this coming weekend. There havent been very many good flicks to see lately. The next one that looks to be good is called "RED" which stands for....Retired, extremely dangerous, I think its coming out the first part of October.

Anonymous said...

I love you serial killer.

dbackdad said...

Just saw it last night. Liked it a lot. I agree with the Eastwood comparison. He's very good behind the camera and he's just getting started. And he's not bad writing either (with an Oscar already). He's got a bit of Scorsese in him too in that he's got a great feel for setting (place and people) in his home town.

What surprised me is that I thought he was very good acting in this one. Not to say that he hasn't acted well in the past ... it's just that the vehicles he's generally been in haven't showcased it.