Saturday, 16 July 2011

My Favourite Films (12/15) - Crime

Favourite Crime Film - The Town (Affleck, 2010)

Choosing the Ben Affleck directed 2010 film ‘The Town’ over Michael Mann’s classic ‘Heat’ wasn’t an easy decision. In fact I was very tempted to just call it a tie and write a joint piece, but as I’ve eventually managed to settle on an outright winner in every other genre it didn’t feel right taking the easy option here.

Unsurprisingly on its release ‘The Town’ drew a lot of comparisons to the 1995 film which pitted De Niro against Pacino in a cat and mouse game between a master criminal and the detective charged with stopping him. The surprising thing was that, considering the high regard ‘Heat’ is held in by a lot of film critics and fans, the majority of comparisons were highly favourable.

It’s a fairly classic crime film set up; a skilled and professional criminal and his gang of accomplices are attracting the attention of a determined cop, who closes in on them. There’s the girl who makes the thief want to change his ways and the “one last job”. There’ve been plenty of films that try to make the audience relate to the criminal more than the police officer, the anti-hero is a staple of most film cultures, but Ben Affleck’s character Doug MacRay is more straight forwardly likeable and engaging character than most. ‘The Town’ is a film about people who feel trapped by where they grew up, forced, or perhaps more accurately, raised into a life of crime where robbing a bank seems almost like a regular job.

Affleck gives the character a real subtlety and depth, dealing with a range of elements of Doug with a nous that, perhaps if applied to ‘Pearl Harbour’ could have made the film a whole lot more likeable. Then again maybe Affleck has suffered somewhat unfairly for his involvement in that particular travesty of a film; in a film where he has either received good direction or directed himself he’s actually been quite consistently strong. Sadly ‘Pearl Harbour’ has left a scar across his career that will probably not fully fade. A few more performances than this though and perhaps people will forget it’s there at least.

Whether dealing with his ex (Blake Lively) and the daughter from that relationship, the girl who he likes (Rebecca Hall), his convicted felon of a father or his best friend and borderline psychopath James (played superbly by Jeremy Renner who I’m yet to see do a bad performance), Doug is both incredibly believable and painfully pitiable. He’s a strong individual, yet you can’t help but feel that with a few more lucky breaks he could have been so much more than the bank robber he is.

I think Affleck/Doug is the reason I prefer ‘The Town’ to ‘Heat’. Mann’s film is one about men so focussed on their pride in their respective careers that they damage everything they touch and seem unable to really relate to others; utterly fascinating to watch but difficult to empathise with. Affleck gives all of the central cast in ‘The Town’ a degree of humanity that is deliberately left out of ‘Heat’ and for me that was the deciding factor in why it gets the nod for my favourite crime film; when the final showdown rolls around I felt a passionate attachment to Doug that I simply didn’t for De Niro’s McCauley or Pacino’s Lt. Hanna.

Tightly scripted and paced throughout no scenes feel like filler and every conversation feels important. It has to be admitted that it doesn’t have a scene to rival that coffee shop scene in ‘Heat’ but it has several moments that suggest Affleck has a long and productive career in front of him as a director and actor. One scene during a dramatic escape with a lone police officer is beautifully underplayed and subtly comic, while the scene between Doug and John Hamm’s Special Agent Frawley may lack some of the delicious tension and mutual respect of the equivalent ‘Heat’ scene, but has one of the most deliciously aggressive and un-PC rants by Frawley being met with utter nonchalance by MacRay going for it.

‘The Town’ wouldn’t exist without ‘Heat’ having been made almost 15 years earlier; the similarities can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored. However I believe Affleck created the superior film because, without sacrificing any of the moral confusion of rooting for the criminal, he also created a fantastically human character in Doug who not just holds the plot together but gives the film it’s complex, but beating heart. Renner, Hamm and the late Pete Postlewaite are superb as the men who Affleck relies upon and fights against, sometimes at the same time, Lively and Hall are similarly excellent, but it is Affleck who deserves the respect for this film. To direct a great film and give a great lead actor performance are rarely combined in the same film and he’s gone a long way to establishing himself as one of the most talented people involved in Hollywood right now. Perhaps one day reviewers like me will even forget he was ever in ‘Pearl Harbour’ at all.

For now he will have to comfort himself with the knowledge that if he can build on this and the impressive ‘Gone Baby Gone’ then he will definitely go down in history as one of the greats of the turn of the century and rightfully so.

Another mark of just how good ‘The Town’ is, is that it’s one of the few films I’ve ever dedicated more than one blog to, reviewing it briefly a couple of months ago, but I feel that this post has perhaps done better justice both to the film in its own right and its relationship to Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’. I advise you watch both of them and I don’t really mind which you prefer, because you’ll have watched two extremely good films and that’s what matters more.

Today's song was going to be from one of the bands I'm excited to see at Tramlines next weekend, but I'll save that for a later post, because this just came on my iTunes as I've currently got a playlist I made a few years ago on shuffle and it brought back a lot of memories. It's off of one of the first CD's I ever owned, a Christmas present when I was 12 or 13 if I remember rightly, and I was amazed to find that this evening I still remember pretty much every word to this song, which was always my favourite on the album.

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