Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hunting Season

Powerful yearning, for escape from one’s roots, the love of a good woman, and an abandonment of violence as a way of life are all boiling to the rim of Ben Affleck’s comeback in The Town. Here we have, as with the superior Gone Baby Gone, a return to the working-class Bostonian roots of Affleck’s breakout role, as co-star and co-author (with Matt Damon, and most certainly Kevin Smith, respectively) in Good Will Hunting. Affleck takes the starring role this time, and the box-office receipts have proven that to be a decent gambit. Here is a star well past his phony tabloid meltdown and a string of bad pictures, clearly having spent the last five years figuring out where to go from there. His two most recent films suggest he’s back in the game, and would very much like you to consider an end to the backlash against him.

It is, first of all, a good and absorbing film. It’s a heist-movie, co-starring an apparently fat(?) Jeremy Renner and a reliably one-step-behind FBI agent Jon Hamm. It is in many ways a standard one-last-job/shoot-out-with-the-cops flick (To call it a cat-and-mouse game would be to give the cat too much credit). It’s a film of lean, physical toughness and swagger. With any good heist or streets picture, you go for the window dressing, not the frame.

Jeremy Renner plays Affleck’s lifelong friend recently released from prison on a stint that kept Affleck from going there himself. Renner is the wild-card, like his character in The Hurt Locker, only with a self-preservation instinct that won’t outpace the death one. He’s predictable only in the sense that you can easily expect violence from him. At what point it will emerge is anyone’s guess.

The more crucial force in the picture is Jon Hamm’s FBI agent, who, though smart enough to know he has his guys, can’t quite keep up with Affleck. He throws around the word omerta in a strong-arming interrogation session, knows what it means, and knows the guys he’s tailing are bound by it (but doesn’t understand quickly enough how deeply another character becomes bound by it).

The film, while not as great as Gone Baby Gone, speaks to how deeply we may have ourselves underestimated Affleck. In salvaging his career, he has now made two of his best pictures. He’s currently filming his next project for Terrence Malick. People can surprise you from out of the holes they pull themselves.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Soci(opath)al Network

“That’s got to be the land-speed record for talking”

David Fincher’s Facebook "exposé” opens to a roller-coaster of words, no faster in terms of pacing and screw-ball velocity than ones spoken during the set-matches of the rest of the film, but they feel faster. Your ears sit up. The first exchange is between Mark Zuckerberg and his Boston University girlfriend, and it’s more densely packed than an episode of House (if not The West Wing). It reels you in, makes you adjust to the pitch and timbre of the film, and may well be the interaction you’ll need to review the most to get the entire movie. It’s all right there at the start.

Recorded from the perpetual-motion-machine of Aaron Sorkin’s brain, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not what occurs from thereon is even remotely true. We’re witnessing history re-written from the heights. A few facts are certainly inescapable, being that Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, settled out of court with two different parties (or many, many more), and went on to become Charles Foster Kane (in a hoodie).

For those who both snickered at the notion of a Facebook movie being made and at the prospect of Jesse Eisenberg starring in it, you are offered Eisenberg's scrutinizing, contemptuous face, for two whole hours. And, while he’s flaunting your small-mindedness with his pitch-perfect performance, he’d like to thank you now in advance for never again comparing him to Michael Cera. There are fine performances here, particularly from Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield (our incipient Spider Man). What’s more of a surprise is how surely Justin Timberlake takes over the movie halfway through. He fares more than well enough with the speaking of Sorkinese.

David Fincher’s film presents what most people would be convinced are mundane affairs, through his usual shadowy, sepia-lensed viewfinder. In this, he gets the tone of Zuckerberg’s resentment-filled coming-of-age just right. He also takes us deep into the world of the elite Harvard establishment and power-drunk tweener-preneurs. It’s a very interesting film for our resentful times.

It’s also a classic tale of an almost Nixonian triangulator. Spurned from his lack of social and practical acceptance in the highest echelons and clubs, not to mention his puny ineligibility for the rowing team, Zuckerberg is forced to outdo them all.

That starts a war. We see the testimony of the three major parties, the Winklevoss twins, Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) and Zuckerberg, the first two suing the latter for theft of intellectual property, and quite literal disenfranchisement, respectively. The official line of the filmmakers is that they’re presenting a “Rashomon” scenario for the viewers. They claim they don’t know which version of events is correct.

The movie seems to know, however. The entire film flashbacks from its deposition frame-story to a narrative in motion that leads inexorably down Zuckerberg’s byzantine maneuvering and cut-throat deal-making. The endgame is your typical lonely man in a tower, loveless, friendless, and rich.

We’ve seen that movie before, a few times. What we don’t usually see is a protagonist who might not realize what he’s lost; the price of being the world’s youngest billionaire. One is led to believe he didn’t even know he was so Machiavellian, but it’s all right there in the first scene.

It’s a break-up movie, set to Trent Reznor, filmed in Se7en-vision. And it’s the best film made from a Sorkin screenplay yet. Go see it.