Friday, October 15, 2010

Two Recent Movies: The Other Guys and The Town

The Other Guys is probably the funniest Will Ferrell movie since Talladega Nights, but it still doesn’t quite reach the heights of hilarity of that movie or the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. All three of these movies were directed by Adam McKay, and his talent for directing improvised comedy again serves Ferrell and company well. This time he also gets more ambitious and varied with his direction, providing massive car chases through Manhattan, over-the-top action sequences filmed in trademark Tony Scott-Michael Bay fashion, and one striking scene in a bar consisting entirely of frozen tableaux that seem to pop out from the screen and tell the story of an entire night in about 10 seconds. Ferrell does try a variation on his normal shtick; instead of the bossy idiot who thinks he’s cool, he goes for a more restrained innocent who doesn’t want to take the limelight but is bullied into it by his partner Mark Wahlberg. This new character doesn’t stay consistent, but it is an improvement on the character that had grown old by the time of Blazing and Hoops. Wahlberg is quite funny and plays well off of Ferrell, and Eva Mendes is fine if a little awkward as Ferrell’s wife. Michael Keaton is mostly kind of lame as the police chief, though he gets a couple of funny lines (I loved his “second job”). The funniest performances, though, go out to Samuel L. Jackson and “The Rock” Johnson, who steal the first half of the movie as the wildly over-the-top and destructive hero cops who stepped right out of Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys. There brief appearances are, alas, over too soon, but they make a great impression. The rest of the film is a bit more rocky, as terrific stretches are followed by nonsensical scenes that just don’t work. A trip to the house of one of Ferrell’s exes is just painful, and at point the duo end up in Ls Vegas for a second or two for no apparent reason. When scenes work, though, they definitely work, and there are plenty of big laughs. I especially liked the way every slow scene transition would be filled with mournful jazz music on the soundtrack in best cop movie fashion.
Strangely enough, the movie actually seems to take it’s story of Wall Street corruption seriously, and the credits roll against a background of clever graphs detailing the amounts of money spent on government bail-outs and CEO bonuses over the last couple of years. This clashes a bit with the aimless weightlessness of everything that had gone before, but it was surprisingly incisive and informative, and many people stayed to the end of the credits to watch. I do find it rather funny that millionaire movie stars are criticizing businessmen for making too much money, and wasteful bail-out money makes me more angry at the government than at the corporations who received it, but whatever: it took nothing away from my enjoyment of the movie.

Rating: 6/10 stars.

The Town is the most recent in a string of Boston-set crime movies stretching back to the late ‘90s. Boondock Saints and Good Will Hunting kicked off the trend, which has now continued through the A-list likes of Mystic River, The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, and Edge of Darkness, plus a couple of never-heard-of-ems called Southie and Monument Ave. Most of these movies were set in the white ghettos of Boston, neighborhoods like Southie and Charlestown. But Boston has become a major setting for more conventional dramas as well, with Shutter Island set just off the coast of the city, the upcoming The Company Men set in the suburbs, and Surrogates was set in a futuristic version of the city. The talent surrounding all these movies is incredibly uniform, so much so that I considered using this space for a massive Venn diagram showing how the filmmakers, stars, and movies all interlock. Unfortunately I had to abandon this when I realized I had no way to post such a creation here. Just a few examples then: Dennis Lehane was the author of the source novels for Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. Ben Affleck starred in Good Will Hunting along with his brother Casey, then directed Casey in Gone Baby Gone and himself in The Town. He will also appear in The Company Men. Matt Damon also starred in Good Will Hunting, then appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. The latter two would next collaborate on Shutter Island. Ray Winstone appeared in both The Departed and Edge of Darkness, while Martin Sheen appeared in both The Departed and Monument Ave. And the list goes on.
Like the rest of the Boston crime movies, The Town puts a premium on local color, emphasizing ghetto tribalism in both its plot and its language, with an omnipresent Boston accent so thick, those who don’t have it seem out of place. Ben Affleck takes the director’s seat for the second time after 2007’s excellent Gone Baby Gone, and his confidence is evident and justified. He knows how to direct actors to excellent performances, he knows how to craft an action sequence, he understands pacing and classical storytelling. He has here crafted a solid and entertaining crime drama that is worth the cost of the ticket. The story follows Affleck, a Charlestown bank robber who’s losing his enthusiasm for the job, as he falls in love with a girl from out of town, potentially compromising the security of his crew, and angering his best friend James, played by an excellent Jeremy Renner. As they plan one last heist, an FBI agent played by Jon Hamm closes in on them.
I cannot give the movie a completely positive review, though, for it never rises above its cliched plot to achieve anything special, and there are a few weaknesses. The movie obviously owes a lot to Heat, and if it weren’t for the central role South Boston plays as the milieu, it might be considered a straight rip-off. The Town differs from Heat, however, in the relative centrality of its cop character. Jon Hamm shouldn’t really be compared to Al Pacino, and his part is much smaller, but he is, unfortunately, the weak link in an otherwise stellar cast. His FBI agent is driven and determined (aren’t they all?), but also angry and unsympathetic. We root for Affleck and his crew over the FBI the whole way through, because the feds are led by a prick who is neither villainous nor noble, merely annoying. Affleck himself is the other weak point. While he does a satisfactory job of carrying the movie--we do care for him, we do root for him--he does not suggest the same complexity other actors have offered in similar roles. He always seems a bit too soft for the job--we can never really believe such a nice guy would put on Halloween masks and rob banks--and his supposedly difficult past seems more an expected plot point than an important revelation of character.
Ultimately, The Town is carried by its high production values, exciting direction, and excellent supporting cast, becoming a satisfying entry in a rather tired genre. Or, perhaps a better way of putting it: The Town is good in all the ways a big-studio crime drama ought to be good, but lacks the originality and vision of a true artist.

Rating: 8/10 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment