Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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This Town is an All Right Town


Ben Affleck's growing as a director: I appreciated Gone Baby Gone, but I was generally underwhelmed by it. But while The Town isn't a perfect movie, it's certainly better-paced with more consistently satisfying performances. Actually, Affleck's proving himself quite adept at pulling off the latter from his ensemble, and while there's little doubt as to the talents of all those involved, even an all-star cast doesn't always boast across-the-board complex performances. Whether it be Rebecca Hall's leading turn as victim-turned-lover, Chris Cooper's cameo as a cold yet protective father, or the supporting turns from Titus Welliver and Staine as "those other guys" on both sides of the law, every role is textured, layered, and satisfyingly delivered.

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in particular shine as the mandatory Psycho Friend and the Determined Cop, respectively. Renner, for one, is clearly having a great time with the role, but manages to keep it grounded. It's probably the second-best iteration of this kind of character, right behind Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress, but ahead of the somewhat-hammy Pesci in GoodFellas.  Hamm infuses his performance with some subtle humor, though there's never a doubt as to how serious he takes this business. This is the performance you wish Christian Bale had given in Public Enemies; the interrogation room monologue alone is pure beauty.

Out of everyone, though, it's Blake Lively who comes out on top. She's got, what, four scenes maximum? But every time she was onscreen, I sat up and took notice. The blonde beauty of television tarts herself up, all teased hair and smudged makeup, as Renner's drug-addled little sister. Her husky, slurred speech complements her almost-somnambulist look, flirting through half-closed lids at any man that sits beside her. It makes her transformation into a screaming, sweating cat all the more outstanding. She makes you feel the history between her and Affleck's character, and it's a pity we don't see more of her. Or maybe it isn't; maybe this is a role that works as well as it does because we see so little of her.

So the performances are great. What else? Well, Affleck's direction is certainly assured, so much so that his next film will probably be the one to knock it out of the park. Otherwise? A mixed bag. Dylan Tichenor's editing keeps the story moving...but two action sequences are too confusingly cut to discern what's taking place. I had no idea who was where during either the car chase or the fist fight. If this was done deliberately to confuse us, then congratulations, I guess. But it brought me out of the movie. The screenplay by Affleck, Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig is also problematic for me, giving Hall and Affleck dialogue that's either philosophizing or making metaphors. That the actors manage to make a lot of this sound natural for the most part is impressive, but the uncomfortable marriage of pulp and realism had me shaking my head at times. The score's uneven, too, sometimes awesome (as in the crime sequences), sometimes irritatingly Eastwood-esque (the romantic sequences).

Where these weaker elements became most obvious was in the ending. Though better executed than the one in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck still has a problem with just letting it go. The pacing seems off, especially considering everything that precedes it. Then, too, the script let me down. I didn't believe any of Hall's actions in the last five minutes, and the tone drove me crazy. Also, and perhaps I'm alone on this, I thought Affleck's character was an asshole. I liked him enough, but I didn't necessarily root for him, and I felt that the ending required you to.

But overall, it was pretty solid. Those performances are to die for, and the sound mix (SO GOOD) has to be heard in a movie theater to get the full effect. It's worth the price of admission, but may I recommend a matinee?

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