To have a solid directing career is not what one would expect from someone who, at the age of 25, wins an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Not, at least, if the Oscar is awarded for a tear-jerking, phoney story like the one Ben Affleck and best pal Matt Damon wrote for Good Will Hunting, one of the most painfully self-complacent films Hollywood gave us in the 90s.
I have to confess that, before writing this entry, I had to check who Affleck and Damon were nominated against to remember why I was so mad when they won the Academy Award 13 years ago. Among the other nominated scripts were Simon Beaufoy’s funny, smart Full Monty, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adult, important Boogie Nights and James L. Brooks’ technically perfect As Good As It Gets. To top it all, Affleck and Damon won over Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, a hilariously smart and original story stuffed with witty dialogue written by the man who is arguably the best screenwriter of our time.
Films like Finding Forrester or The Blind Side is what I would have expected from the writer of Good Will Hunting, but Mr. Affleck has proved me wrong by delivering so far two honest, powerful films as director.
In The Town Affleck picks up and develops the subject-matter he introduced in his debut film Gone, Baby, Gone: the dirty face of white trash suburban America.
The Town is an adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves (which I don’t know) and tells the story of a group of friends grown up in Charlestown, a small town near Boston which is, according to the film, America’s most fertile breeding ground for bank robbers.
The story in The Town (which I won’t reveal here) is not revolutionary in any way and it even dwells on the most clichéd elements of the crime drama genre. There lies, however, its main virtue: Affleck’s ability to helm a perfectly fine ‘bank robbery’ movie with good dialogue and terrific carjacking action scenes to boot.
Affleck takes the risk of casting himself as the leading man (his brother Casey, a better actor than him, took the lead in Gone, Baby, Gone), but he is smart enough to surround himself with a group of exceptional players. Rebecca Hall goes on delivering good work as the film’s girl, Mad Men’s Jon Ham gives depth to the obsessed cop, while Chris Cooper and a scarily skinny Pete Postlethwaite are as good as always in their brief roles as Affleck’s dad and the town’s crime boss, respectively.
The acting standout of the film comes, however, from the fictional sibling couple Jem and Krista Coughlin, brilliantly played by Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively. I’m glad to see that Renner has landed such a great part after his difficult, Oscar-nominated turn in The Hurt Locker. I see him as a real contender to receive another Oscar nod, this time in the supporting category. Gossip Girl Blake Lively, whose main film work to date was to play a young Robin Wright Penn in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, delivers a pitch-perfect performance that conveys the vulnerability of her Adriana La Cerva-like character while shying away from the archetypical drug addict act. Although I didn’t take a stopwatch to the movie theatre, I reckon that her performance’s screen time clocks in at around 10 to 15 minutes, but her role is pivotal in the film’s denouement and therefore I hope viewers in general and Academy voters in particular won’t forget her during the award season.
In fact, I think everybody is underestimating The Town‘s chances in the Oscar race. It’s true that there are bigger contenders which have made more noise in the media, specially Inception and The Social Network, but The Town may ultimately prove to be the film that pleases most people, which is after all what every vote is about. If The Town pulls off an upset against frontrunner The Social Network in January and wins the SAG for best ensemble cast (as I think it might happen), the chances of the film to get a Best Picture nod at the Oscars will increase exponentially. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out a directing nomination for Affleck and acting nods for Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively. We are still far from the crucial part of the race, but that’s the fun of predicting the Oscars, so here are mine for the The Town .
Best Picture (very likely)
Best Director (Ben Affleck) (possible)
Best Supporting Actor (Jeremy Renner) (very likely)
Best Supporting Actress (Blake Lively) (long shot)
Best Adapted Screenplay (long Shot)
As we wait for the Oscar race to develop, just enjoy this good film that has in its sincerity its biggest trump card.
Here’s the trailer and a terrific scene with Blake Lively and Jon Hamm.