A film about Boston. And crime. We know, unthinkable isn't it...
Come to Boston! Where everyone dresses in flannel and talks like they’re gargling a small woodland creature! Oh, and is a criminal! Here’s a polite memo to the manager of the Boston tourist office: fire everyone immediately. Why? For allowing yet another film to be made about bank robberies in the Massachusetts capital (ps. It might be an idea to get some more Red Sox posters blown up ASAP).
The Departed, The Boondock Saints, The Town director Ben Affleck’s last film Gone Baby Gone; Boston based crime movies are almost becoming a sub-genre of filmmaking in their own right. Not that I’m complaining. I love that shit. But then if filmmakers consistently made movies about depressed unemployed coalminers in the South Yorkshire village of Armthorpe (my hood, so to speak) then I might take offence at being typecast. Actually, some Boston residents have done just that, like former NHL legend and Charlestown native (the neighbourhood where The Town, and many of the films mentioned above are set) Jack O’Callahan.
Jack was born in Charlestown in 1957, and recently went on record saying there definitely was an element of crime in Charlestown when he grew up there – “but it didn’t bleed into the neighborhood. And those guys were pretty good parents who went to church on Sundays. They were gangsters, but they were good neighbors.” This, it should be noted, is a little bit like the liquid bullshit that comes out of Barbara Windsor’s anus shaped mouth every time an elderly east end gangster dies and is dragged around Whitechapel by a wheezing horse and cart: “aw, they were ruffians, but they would have said please and thanks when they were pummeling your eyeball with a screwdriver”. But I can sort of see what Jack is trying to say. Principally that the criminals he knew growing up weren’t just criminals. They were dads, sons, husbands – humans – too…
Am I on topic or off topic here? I can’t really tell.
In truth, it’s a bit of both. The Town is certainly an enjoyable and well made crime romp – the word that’s probably most appropriate here is ‘diverting’, a word film makers loathe as much as fat boys fear hearing “you’re such a great friend” from cute girls – suggesting Affleck is well on his way to becoming an accomplished talent behind the camera (whilst still moderately smug in front of it), with decent to good performances throughout (The Hurt Lockers Jeremy Renner being the best of the bunch). That said, I can’t help thinking The Town is a grossly formulaic piece of cinema. This, dear reader, is why…
Imagine I made a movie. Lets, for the sake of argument, call it Bill (because that’s my dads name and he’ll get a thrill out of knowing he’s on the internet in a capacity other than the pictures of him in his Speedos on a childhood holiday to Skegness that I tagged him in on Facebook). In the film, our eponymous hero goes on a massive killing spree, shooting a load of people in the face – for hours on end – but never really explaining his motivations why. Actually, that film isn’t called Bill. It’s called Rambo. But the point I’m trying to make is this: The Town is just as one dimensional and liner as Rambo is – but without possessing the gratuitous violence that makes up for any given films below par nuances (bad writing, direction, etc)
Because the difference between The Town and, say, pretty much every film Scorsese has ever made about crime (so pretty much every film Scorsese has ever made, then) is that in Marty’s films you always – always! – understand the motivations why people do bad stuff. Sadly, I can’t say the same about Affleck’s film. “Oh, but the guy in the film had a bad childhood” you say. Right, but lots of people have bad childhoods (as far as I know, Mowgli from The Jungle Book never went on to be a crack dealer) and lots of people are poor (see also: Armthorpe) and not everyone who is goes out and robs a bank. I need a little bit more character development than what The Town gives me, a little bit more flavour to the script – a film about humans and not cardboard cutouts of them would do.
Still, on past form, I’m sure Afflect has many, many more Boston based crime dramas in him. He’ll get it right eventually (best keep them Red Sox posters coming, lads).