I didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did. But it was a fine cops & robbers movie. Unstupid.
There's something I like about this film, now that I've had a moment to let it sink in, and that thing is how well it makes a Boston film - in that the environment is part of the plot. This is Affleck's second or third notable Boston film and I'm going to bring up a comparison that I think is perfectly apt. And that is Marlon Brando.
I was too young to understand anything significant about Marlon Brando, and I must confess that I'm not in a great position to judge. Streetcar and Waterfront sit idling on my Netflix queue and I have never quite been so bored that I actually desired to sit through them. But I did just watch about 30 minutes of YouTubery, including the interview of him with Dick Cavette shortly after he made his notorious Oscar speech. Brando looked exactly like what I imagine most of some fraction of America wanted a man to look like at the time. With the beard and long hair, he was a large square man with a large square face, uniquely handsome, very self-possesed, and weary. Cavette admitted that he had a previous four hour conversation with Brando, and evidently everything had been said, and Brando must have convinced Cavette of something quite profound - or perhaps intimidated him in the way men of action do when they are revealed to be as contemplative and intelligent as their effete counterparts. Whatever the reason, Brando was bored, Cavette was tiptoeing and the whole affair looked like an in-joke, as if there were something extraordinarily scary that the world was afraid might leap from the mouth of this screen idol.
So what was that thing? I don't know. Something about how much it hurts for certain people to be portrayed in certain demeaning ways. Oh yes, I recall. It was the 'positive images' argument. Perhaps Brando was the man who first articulated it in a way that Hollywood ultimately had to reckon with. He mentioned how much Hollywood had changed its portrayal of blacks, but how Natives and others still suffered a preponderance of belittling roles. There will alwasy be something about this argument that fails to impress me. It is the inherent contradiction established by the role of entertainment in extablishing a counter-punching stereotype. I mean really. Who wants to be Sidney Poitier now?
Guys and Dolls was the only flick that I saw in which Brando's acting talent impressed me. I had no idea who he was when I saw it, and found him remarkable and unique. But on the whole, I like Gene Kelly better in all of that millieu.
I watched some fragment of a film in which Brando did a number of minutes saying nothing and completely rocking the world of a soda-jerk diner waitress. It must have been the first time this deal was done on film because I've seen it replicated numerous times since. This must have been the impact of The Method on what passed for deeply philosophical thought about the art and science of the film industry at the time. Filling the screen with no words and communicating through movement - a kind of ballet. OK I'll buy that for a dollar. The problem for me is that the context needs to be spot on, or it has to be a classic tale. Otherwise it is much less than what it appears to be. An old couple walks down the sidewalk complaining about kids today, motorcycle guy takes it all in, walks into the diner and orders two malts. Big whoop.
Affleck does one big close-up in which the twitches of his eyebrows makes the perfect emphasis on his self-revelation to the woman inches from him in the public gardens. It extends appropriately long for today's ego and serves the purpose of his coming clean to the woman he wants. But it is the only bit of overacting (which is not actually overacted) in the entire film. For once, The Town doesn't go there, deep inside the motivations of what drives a man to be a bank robber. He's just a bad dude from a bad part of town hanging with an unsilent but deadly crew. They don't play badasses, they just don't have a problem doing very particularly engineered dirty deeds.
The film is made by the friendship between Affleck and his stunningly cast partner. And the scene that takes us there is begun by a particularly cruel bit of chivalry. Some chavs have insulted Affleck's girl-to-be. She identifies them, he and his partner show up at their door and mash them but good. It is one of those film moments that can't actually be spoiled despite the fact that I won't try.
As a cops and robbers film, the plot is held together well without going as deeply into the heads of either cops or robbers. It is very much like one of my all-time favorites 'Heat' but does that one better by leaving me a bit more emotionally neutral. I don't like dramas that are not tragic, and so I don't want to be led down the path of empathy with characters who are essentially sociopathic. That path is the subtext of much of the successful entertainment issuing from Hollywood these past decade (basically since Tony Soprano).
I like action films for the action and this one delivers without going over the top, without too much personal drama and by putting in the right amount of dialog. It doesn't monologue you through plots and explanations, it doesn't apply ridiculous stunts, it doesn't preach and it doesn't zig zag too much for the purposes of intrigue. It allows Affleck to act and become the Towny that deep down somewhere he actually is. it is Method without making him into a stunted version of the troublesome Marlon Brando. If Affleck can keep his mouth shut at the Oscars, he'll deserve that level of billing.