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.

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