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Film Review – The Town

February 20, 2011 1 comment

I said I’d eventually start reviewing things on here, so I’ll start with The Town.

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone was a critical success. Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, Affleck delivered a tense story well-told, bringing top-notch performances from all of his cast. He was singled out as a director to be watched, but much hinged on his second effort. So, for The Town, Affleck has tried to repeat much of what made Gone Baby Gone successful. The Town is another adaptation, this time from Chuck Logan’s novel ‘Prince of Thieves’, and is also based in Affleck’s home town of “Bahston”. This time however, Affleck also steps in front of the camera to take the lead role of Doug MacRay: a hockey washout who, with three friends, has turned to a life of bank robbing.

Has Affleck delivered on the promise and hype which Gone Baby Gone produced? The answer is a resounding yes. Gone Baby Gone had it’s flaws, but the biggest one for me was that it was occasionally hokey. While watching I became very aware that I WAS WATCHING A FILM. Rather than get sucked into the story, I found it to be like watching a documentary on Boston. Thankfully, The Town doesn’t suffer from the same problem. It too has it’s flaws but none so distracting. It’s a much more assured effort from Affleck, his stride has definitely been hit.

The story won’t win any prizes for originality. Man does bad things, man falls in love, man seeks to change his ways and leave despite resistance from those around him. But Affleck directs in a way that makes that well-trodden path seem newly-repaired. It’s a film about human behaviour more than the heists. Why people do what they do; how they fall into the traps they do; why most don’t change. This is brought to the fore with the relationships between MacRay, his friends and his father. All of the supporting characters could have (and some have) fallen into cliché, but because they are fully-drawn and well-written, they are entirely believable. The naturalistic (and heavily-accented) dialogue is key to this. You get the feel of the characters without having to try, it comes across in what they say without having to be full of exposition.

As it is a heist film there are, of course, action set-pieces. Whereas the direction for most of the film is fairly intimate, in close with the characters, when it comes to the showier stuff, Affleck pulls it off with aplomb. The heists themselves are breathtaking affairs, and even though it is now the law to reference Heat when any film has criminals with automatic weapons shooting it out in the street during broad daylight, the comparison only lasts a second before you enjoy it on it’s own merits. No mean feat. He employs a range of angles without losing the coherence of what’s going on, and pulls you right in to the action.

Once again, Affleck gets the best of his cast. From the ever reliable Chris Cooper as MacRay’s banged-up father to Jon Hamm’s G-man, who could have become a lazy FBI suit, the type you see on screen all the time and may as well be made out of cardboard, they all deliver performances with depth. Jeremy Renner has been nominated for an Oscar as MacRay’s best friend, “Jem” Coughlin, the man with strong principles of friendship but a temperamental nature. Since Joe Pesci’s turn in Goodfellas, those roles of the hot-headed friends tend to garner the attention in a film like this, but honestly, although Renner is superb, Affleck is better.

His performace as MacRay carries the film, and it needs to. If you don’t believe in Affleck’s performance then the whole film fails. But he comes across as a leader of men; someone who has regret but isn’t bitter; someone who believably seeks redemption. He could leave it there and have a protagonist you could get behind but, most importantly, he doesn’t forget that MacRay is also an asshole and a vicious bastard. With that in place, it elevates him to someone you don’t want to take your eyes off. It’s as though his stint behind the camera has given him a realisation about what to do in front of it. Affleck is no longer so obviously trying to act and the smugness apparent in almost all of his films has translated into an easy charm. It’s a shame that roles like that tend to be overlooked, as it deserves attention.

There are two main faults with The Town though, one disappointing and one trivially annoying. The first one is the relationship between MacRay and love interest Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). It is rushed and so stretches the realms of realism. I count they have a total of four conversations and and one session in the sack before they are in love and ready to abandon their lives for each other. That relationship isn’t the central one, but it is the catalyst for the plot. As such, it hasn’t been treated with the same care as the others. The trivially annoying fault is a small one. The late, great Pete Postlethwaite, whilst giving a good performance as the utter bastard of the piece, Irish gangster ‘Fergie’, goes on another one of his accent jaunts. Rather than the Welshistani accent delivered in The Usual Suspects, this one hops around all of Ireland and the British Isles. I only mention it because it jars during his scenes.

If those could have been avoided, The Town could have been a modern classic. But it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is still an excellent, excellent film which delivers an oft-visited story in a way that’s fresh and enthralling. Affleck now has to avoid becoming a one-trick pony. He needs to get out of Boston for his next film as director and prove he’s the real deal.

One more thing. Did anyone else notice the nod to Daredevil at the end or was it just a coincidence I’m drawing too much out of?

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Categories: Films Tags: , ,

The Great Depression

February 18, 2011 8 comments

Recently I’ve experienced depression for the first time in my life. Not as a sufferer, but living with someone who is. Firstly, I should say that this post has been published with full consent from her, I’d have happily binned it if she didn’t approve. I’ve been reading up on depression and how to cope with someone who is suffering from it (belatedly, after spending a long time in denial) and, at least from the partner’s view (mine) it hasn’t been very helpful. There are a lot of articles out there which seem to offer a list of things you should and shouldn’t do, but it all seems rather trite: “Get them to exercise.” etc. So I thought I would write about my own experience, to maybe help both of us get through this and hopefully help someone else out there in a similar situation. Secondly, I’ll add a couple of disclaimers: 1) You could fit my medical and psychological knowledge into a jam jar that’s already packed with jam, so my viewpoints have no basis in anything other than my own personal experience; 2) Parts of this will come off as self-serving considering it’s my partner that is suffering from depression itself. It is impossible to empathise with a sufferer without having experienced it yourself, so I can only write from my point of view.

Ok, here we go. The articles you will find online will say “it will be hard”. No shit. What they don’t say is that it will be possibly the greatest challenge you both ever have to face, and if you aren’t strong enough to deal with what’s to come then you may as well bail now before you both get dragged down and things get a lot worse.

I would say the best place to start is trying to spot it early. If I’d have known anything at all about depression, I could and would have probably noticed it sooner. After learning about the symptoms now it’s clear they’ve been evident for a while. Because I didn’t, it gradually became worse, and what’s more, I associated her behaviour as something personal. Even though I now know it’s not, it’s still hard to shake it sometimes, which makes this process even harder. If you’re like me and have never experienced it before, it’s too easy to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. With depression becoming more and more common, it might be worth just having a quick glance at an article and having a very quick education. So spot it, and start treatment for it, as early as possible.

Now, the hard stuff. As the one without depression in the relationship, you will have your own special kind of turmoil. I can only assume it’s not half as bad as what they are going through, but it’s no picnic either. You will feel unappreciated and rejected, physically and emotionally. You will be the target of anger and of anxiety. You will have to pick up the slack, be that emotionally or in something like daily tasks. You will be the motivation and the glue. I should say “try to be” because god knows I’ve failed at all of these so far, and it’s only now I’m really adjusting. I have found that repeating a few things to myself, like a mantra, helps a little. Only a little, but that is something: ‘They did not choose this’; ‘they do not want this’; ‘they are not the person you love’; ‘help them get back to that’.

As I said before, if you don’t think you are strong enough to deal with all that then you need to have a serious look at things, otherwise everything will go downhill fast. You will resent them because you take it personally and they will resent you for not being there for them, all that will then happen is irreparable damage to you, your partner and your relationship.

Understanding and patience are the keys. Even if you can’t muster patience, a little tolerance will do. When depression causes arguments, and it inevitably will, there will be an urge to lash out at each other. This is the worst thing you can do. You have to be compassionate without being patronising, remember that depression causes them to see the negative in everything, their feelings of self-worth are non-existent and they don’t see anything like a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, every now and again they might improve and you start to think that it’s over, but it’s only temporary. Appreciate those moments, but appreciate them for what they are and be patient. Even when they start treatment, it takes a long time for it to take effect.

I may paint a pretty bleak picture, but that’s a good thing, as you don’t want to go into this blind, as I did. You need to try and keep it together knowing and experiencing all of this, for both of you, and if you survive it, chances are you’ll both be much, much stronger for it when you do.

I can’t offer any more advice, such as it is, than that as I’m still learning myself. We’re nowhere near anything like good at the minute but I know we’ll get there, together.

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