The festival has been on for a week now, and, looking back, it's been a solid if not especially amazing festival. Surprisingly, nothing has done much to dethrone Black Swan as the most broadly admired film so far, but Potiche was well received, as, apparently, was Alex De Iglesias' Sad Ballad Of The Trumpet. For my part, I was moved and unnerved by Pablo Larrain's grim Chilean coup d'etat elegy Post Mortem, a much more serious film than his debut, Tony Manero, led me to expect. Meek's Cutoff was, quite frankly, boring as hell, with Bruce Greenwood leading a heritage-farm production in which some US settlers rolled across the prairies in 19th century Oregon. And of the three period chop-socky films, John Woo and Su Chao-Pin's Reign Of Assassins is the best so far (Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins screens tonight). Starring Michelle Yeoh, it plays like a role-reversed History Of Violence until a sneaky switcheroo turns it into a version of a similarly themed film that I won't name for fear of spoilers. Tsui Hark's Detective Dee And The Mystery Of the Phantom Flame, by contrast, was rather plodding, and its clumsy CG work was made bearable by the gorgeous Li Bingbing as the spy sent to watch over Detective Dee (Andrew Lau) as he investigates a series of weird, fiery deaths that point to a conspiracy to kill China's first empress.
If I'm going to make predictions about awards, I'm not sure anything is likely to go to Jerzy Skolimowsky's Essential Killing, in which Vincent Gallo plays a terrorist who escapes from custody while being transferred from Afghanistan to a camp in eastern Europe. It's very beautiful, and surprisingly gripping despite a near word-less script, but it may not be enough for the jury. I'd more strongly tip Aleksei Fedorchenko's Silent Souls, a bizarre Russian road movie in which a smalltown factory worker goes with his boss to dispose of the body of the latter's dead wife. A mix of David Lynch and Guy Maddin, it's a a visually ravishing film with an incredible air of mystery and a very unusual score. Outside the competition, in Giornate Degli Autori, Denis Villeneuve's haunting Incendies showed up Schnabel's awful Miral for the unsophisticated tat that it is, telling the story of two Canadian twins coming to terms with the secret past of their recently deceased mother.
Screening today, out of competition, came Ben Affleck's The Town, and he really is two for two with the films he's directed. I perhaps slightly prefer Gone Baby Gone, because it was less traditional, but The Town is a very assured and very powerful second feature all the same. It baffles me that Warner Brothers are putting this out without much ballyhoo, since, if I want a grown-up Hollywood feature, I want to see a movie like this, not one with some po-faced clothes horses donging about in somebody's dreams. The Town is beautifully drawn; it has characters to care about and a situation that, though a little implausible, carries its own internal logic. And unlike that dream movie, there is real action here, with blazing guns, exhilarating car chases and violence with authentically fatal consequences.
It begins with a robbery at a bank in Boston; Doug MacRay (Affleck) is leading his usual crew on a heist timed with military precision. These guys don't mess about: the doors are locked, guards tied up, phones confiscated and dunked in water, hard drives swiped and cooked in the microwave, while bleach is used to destroy any traces of DNA evidence. For security, they kidnap the bank's terrified manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), and later release her unharmed. But when the robbers reconvene, they realise there is a problem: their victim is a local girl, from the working-class area of Charlestown, and Doug's accomplice Jem (Jeremy Renner) starts to fret. What if the girl can identify them? To see how much Claire knows, Doug starts following her. By chance, they get to talking in a launderette, and before long they are friends, and then lovers. Doug falls hard for her, and starts making plans to leave his old ways behind. But Jem won't let him go that easily, so Doug agrees to one last job, organised by a creepy Mr Big known as The Florist, before he quits.
Its staple one-last-job stuff, but Affleck handles it perfectly. The end is a little cleaner, and much more text-book Hollywood, than Gone Baby Gone, with a very twee postscript that's rather hard to swallow, but, for the most part, this is surprisingly complex stuff. Affleck never dials down the threat his character faces, and the film flirts constantly with the only two ways its story can go – death or escape – to riveting effect. The supporting cast is excellent – notably Renner, Hall and especially Blake Lively, as Doug's white-trash girlfriend, who really help Affleck sell his rough-diamond antihero – while Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper make memorable appearances as The Florist and Doug's father respectively. But Affleck deserves special mention too. Though he's a little too clean-cut and articulate ever to seem especially blue collar, there's a lot of subtlety in his performance here, especially in a crucial scene with Hall. He still uses too many flashbacks and too much montage, but I'll forget that for now. All I'm really concerned about is how good his next movie will be.
Acho Posted on Wednesday September 8, 2010, 20:17
I'm quite looking forward to The Town, although I was worried that the trailer gave away too much. Won't know until I see it, of course.
We have Ben Affleck coming over to Dublin for a screening of The Town on Monday week, so very much looking forward to seeing it then. I really liked Gone Baby Gone, and anything with Chris Cooper in it has my vote.
hatebox Posted on Friday September 10, 2010, 10:05
"The Town is a very assured and very powerful second feature all the same. It baffles me that Warner Brothers are putting this out without much ballyhoo, since, if I want a grown-up Hollywood feature, I want to see a movie like this, not one with some po-faced clothes horses donging about in somebody's dreams"
I've seen both films and Inception is far better. The Town completely loses its nerve in the second half and becomes a cliched thriller that plays up to all the tired conventions.