September 19, 2010

Bad Will Hunting

We haven't seen a Boston foursome like this since 1997

The Town is surprisingly watchable, with a confident sense of place and no illusions about what it is (tense but forgettable) and what it isn't (moving or believable). I had no clue what it was about when I walked in, but I was expecting a melodramatic thriller like Gone Baby Gone, not a tightly wound cop vs. robber flick. The action sequences and set pieces were a major highlight, and the Boston accents were thankfully kept under control (other than Pete Postlethwaite's rogue brogue). And despite some truly horrendous dramatic dialogue between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, the movie kept a brisk pace, rarely allowing your attention to focus on how preposterous the relationships and characters were.

So for the most part I liked it, and I've now tolerated Ben Affleck in three straight movies (The Town after Extract and State of Play), which hasn't happened in well over a decade. And speaking of those early Affleck years, there was something altogether too familiar about The Town, wasn't there? Not just because the last minute was reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, and not because Affleck's performance was recycled from Armageddon and Paycheck, but because, well...

Will Doug is a twenty-something ruffian from a historically blue-collar Boston neighborhood. He's an only child who raised himself from a young age, getting in trouble for minor offenses here and there. He has three other buddies from the neighborhood, one whom he considers a brother. The foursome wear track suits as they drink Bud Heavy at nameless corner bars. Sometimes they spontaneously beat up other guys in the neighborhood. One day, Will Doug develops an unlikely crush on a pretty brunette who's not from the area. They have casual dates at outdoor cafes; he lies to her about his personal life.
After accomplishing a very impressive and complicated feat (dealing with numbers) in Cambridge, Will Doug develops a reputation as an anonymous genius. Everyone in the area wants to know who did it, but no one will come forward and Will Doug wasn't seen in the act. Some time later he comes under suspicion, though, and a sharp-tongued antagonist is assigned to study him. He tries to understand him and his troubled history, but Will Doug is a tough case to crack, and complicating matters is a foreign older man and his awkward sidekick, who force Will Doug to work on their terms. 

(Aerial shots of Fenway Park.)

Meanwhile, Will Doug has a heart-to-heart with his best friend (after they wrestle, harmlessly). His friend tells him stories of the past, tells Will Doug that he'd kill to have what he has for him, that Will Doug owes to himself and to the community to leave stay.

With his romantic relationship on the rocks, and forced to own up to his fate, Will Doug eases out of a difficult situation and lets his best friend take the fall for him. Before skipping town, Will Doug leaves a pithy handwritten note for his mentor. As Will Doug sets off into a calm orange dusk, we hear his voice in a letter, explaining his decision to pursue a brighter future.


  1. Affleck is definitely trawling familiar territory here, but I'm happy to see him get himself out of movie jail. As an actor, he's no De Niro, but he's great in the right part, and he's showed a real screenwriting and directing flair. Perhaps not Kubrick, but one of those solid craftsmen like Eastwood or like Ron Howard used to be before he got Oscar greedy.

  2. The directing I'll give him, maybe not the screenwriting. The acting is somewhere in the middle, and I have to admit I'm one of the few people who liked his Philly accent in State of Play. Actually I do agree with you - given the right material (e.g., Changing Lanes) he's usually very good.

  3. Yes, this was a very watchable movie, and I agree with your take on what this movie is and is not. Also, good work on the Good Will Hunting parallels.

    And, yes, part of what this movie is not is "believable" - and so I thought you'd be all over the lapses in logic -

    The Big # 1 - So, okay, the Feds have Rebecca Hall willing to wait around in her apartment and draw in Doug, but Doug can easily see that it's a trap BECAUSE ALL THE FEDS ARE STANDING IN THE CURTAINLESS WINDOWS! And you don't need binoculars to see them, Dougie.

    After the trauma that woman went through, if a strange unshaven, blue collar guy with a hooded sweatshirt started talking to her in a laundromat, she'd get the hell away from him as fast as possible.

    Question: When Claire is too nervous to do the combination correctly, why don't the robbers just tell her to give them the numbers?
    Answer: So that Doug can show us he's a compassionate bank robber and tell her to calm down.

    For the most part, the lapses didn't ruin my enjoyment of the movie, but the Feds in the window almost made me laugh.

  4. Out of Affleck's three jobs on this film - director, actor, writer - I'd agree that the latter is his weakest, although I wouldn't be as harsh on it as you are because I thought his touch both behind the camera and in front of it toned down the level of cliche. In fact, I'd consider this to be the performance I've seen him give, and even the final shot, admittedly a safe ending, left me surprisingly moved.

  5. I enjoyed it myself Daniel. Ben Affleck doesn't try to do too much and shows welcome restraint directing this movie. The main weakness I thought was that the movie was supposed to revolve around the central Claire/Doug romance but didn't because their relationship was just not as credible and developed as it should have been. In any case, an entertaining film and another solid stepping stone for Ben Affleck, the director.

  6. So we can all agree that we enjoyed it but don't think it should necessarily rocket to the top of the Best Picture ballot...

    Hokahey, how I would love to dive into a post and nitpick a movie to death, but alas, The Town grabbed me early enough so that I wasn't entirely focused on the logic (same can't be true for Knowing, as we remember, which flummoxed me from the first scene). That said, of course I also had some questions about why things happened. The feds in the window elicited a theater full of laughter when I saw it, so I don't think you would have been alone there. How about:

    - The Inception gun question: how did all of these guys gain military-grade weapons training?
    - How has Fergie lasted two generations in the neighborhood and never been caught? Are the cops corrupt or just inept? No wonder it's the "bank robbery capital of America".
    - At what costume shop can you get not just nun masks/habits, but ones with really wrinkly, sagging faces? Are these custom-made?
    - How did Doug gain access to correct side of the second floor of the building across the street from Claire?
    - Why didn't Doug realize that his ex would immediately turn him in if he dumped her on the day of the Fenway job? He hadn't acted carelessly the entire time until that stunningly stupid move. Totally against character.

    Danny and Castor, I tried not to come down on it too much, and really my issues were with moments of dialogue, not the screenplay as a whole (I thought the pacing was very good, actually). Claire's confessional to him in the car, for example, or his confessional to her about his mother - those were sending my eyes a rolling. Just didn't seem like it was necessary to establish that much character in a movie like this, though I can't take away from the connections you (Danny) had leading into the ending. But the romance, as Castor says, was just a little out of left field. Why Claire was single to begin with and why she would fall for a guy like Doug, we have no idea.

    And speaking of Doug's character, what kind of switch flipped in him at Fenway when he just unloaded with the machine gun out the back window? Wasn't that the first time we'd even seem him handle a weapon? Kind of shocked me, and I guess made me lose a lot of sympathy for him.

  7. I'm confused. Why did you give it a B+? The grade doesn't seem to match your thoughts.

  8. Hmm, B+, B, B-; it's a murky area since I abandoned my once patented grading system, which would have been applied something like this:

    Writing - 9/10
    Acting - 9/10
    Production - 10/10
    Emotional Impact - 8/10
    Music - 5/5
    Social Significance - 3/5

    Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

    Point is, I thought this was a surprisingly strong film under Affleck's direction and the action and a few scenes were great, but the story didn't strike me as very original or particularly meaningful.


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