Blu-Ray Review: THE TOWN - An Uncompromising, Good-Looking Modern Noir

The question that threatened to over-shadow Ben Affleck's second outing in the director's chair is the same which every filmmaker faces at some point in the run up to that sophomore release: will number two be as good as film number one? I missed it at the cinema, so this Blu-ray release was always going to excite me, if only to address that question for my own curiosity.

Can someone please tell me why this film missed out on an Oscar nomination for Best Picture?

The Town is the rarest of things- a clever but pacey action-lead film that doesn't skimp on quality in either content or execution, and it bears the mark of an impressive director - pulling off a story in which the emotional heart of the matter is just as well handled as the bloody, thumping action.

As an actor himself, Ben Affleck is probably more equipped than many of his fellow helmers to "man-manage" his cast, and from what is on screen here, he evidently knows how to get powerhouse performances out of his charges. It also helps that he cleverly surrounds himself with very talented thesps- Jeremy Renner, Pete Postelthwaite and Jon Hamm especially- who give the characters an authenticity that validates the whole film's attempt to be a gritty character-lead exercise. In what is a frankly implausible plot when you break it down, it is a remarkable achievement that all of the head-scratching problems brought in during the second act (when the bias swings toward emotion) are completely forgiveable in light of the performances.

Almost everything here is pitch perfect- from the opening voice-over that establishes in less than a minute exactly what we should expect from the film- it will be as hard-boiled and gritty as they come- a modern noir that spins the conventional femme fatale trope entirely on its head. Instead of the girls leading the essentially good (if utterly flawed) lead man astray, it's a good girl turning the head of an institutionally bad guy away from his ingrained crime career.

And boy, does the film look good: the unsentimental cinematography offers an irresistible dichotomy, making a near lawless suburban waste-land look beautiful precisely because of every one of its unconventional flaws. Daylight is bleached, night punctuated by garish, neon bullet holes, and even the characters seem to breath only as part of their environment. They are walking embodiments of where they've grown up- hardened by a choice of violence or crime, dirtied by proximity to the seedy establishments and dead-end drinking holes.

I couldn't help but think that Affleck's Charlestown was very much the by-night, grubby under-belly alternate universe to his Good Will Hunting Boston. In fact, really this film works as an unofficial follow up to that one. But rather than the impending doom of mundanity being broken by scholastic aptitude, the film offers normalcy (in the shape of a relationship with a "square") as the opportunity to escape the vicious cycle of generation spanning criminal expectations placed on the next generation.

In the final reckoning The Town is excellent- beautiful and jarring looking, featuring some sublime performances (despite a comparatively weaker script) and truly memorable. A fitting follow-up to Affleck's surprising and equally excellent Gone Baby Gone. Highly recommended.

Quality

Pretty darn beautiful. Incredibly textured and impressively detailed, and it has a wonderfully stylized aesthetic that you can just drink in over and over. Great cinematography helps, but with such an attention to detail, the transfer was always going to be a great thing of beauty. Sound-wise, the transfer is just as impressive, with dialogue given precedence, which for a noisy old action-heavy film like this is a wonderful change- and adding to that the strength of the sound of the action sequences results in a beautiful sounding audio track all round.

Extras

Not an awful lot to choose from, and the decision to enable a function where you can watch the six mini-features that make up the Ben's Boston behind the scenes section while the film plays is a little redundant, since it is way too clunky to make it a real option. They do offer some interesting information, but I'd say watch them after the feature, not at the same time. The best thing about the package though is the Commentary offered by Ben Affleck, which I can safely say is one of the best, and most informative commentaries I've ever come across. He offers the perfect amount of technical insight, but keeps it simple, and despite former accusations of an attitude problem, he has the perfect amount of charisma, even in his voice to suck you in completely. Bit of a voice crush, I think. But the guy clearly knows movies, which makes for a good listening experience. Audio Commentary with director/star Ben Affleck Ben's Boston - 6 mini features- "Pulling off the Perfect Heist," "The Town," "Nuns With Guns," "The Real People of the Town," "Ben Affleck: Director & Actor," and "The Cathedral of Boston" The Town was released on Blu-ray yesterday.
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