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4. The Town
Another Boston-set film, another jewel in the CV-crown of Ben Affleck. This time he directs, writes and stars, perhaps feeling confident enough following Gone Baby Gone to take on more than just writing and directing roles for this, his sophomore effort behind the lens.
After the acclaim for Gone Baby Gone, Affleck was able to attract as impressive an array of talent as he did for his debut, with Jeremy Renner, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper and Jon Hamm fleshing out the accomplished cast list. Renner in particular brings engaging menace to his role as a tightly-wound member of the crew who are working their way through a series of increasingly risky bank jobs, while Affleck tries to embark on a relationship with an employee of one of the banks they turned over.
Again, there is a compelling sense of Boston, this time the eponymous Charlestown district, with the members of the crew being given thought-through and fleshed-out back stories, rooting them in this neighbourhood from which they cannot and will not extricate themselves. Ben Affleck has already completed his third outing as director, this time with Argo, venturing this time beyond the safe, familiar confines of Beantown. Hopefully he will return before too long.
5. Shutter Island
After his success in Boston with The Departed, Scorsese returned there again, setting this compelling and (at times) bewildering mystery on the eponymous island, just off the coast of Boston. Leo DiCaprio is sent to the “facility” on said island to investigate the seemingly inexplicable escape and disappearance of one of its patients, while trying to work with and around the obstructive and possibly dangerous medical staff (in particular an affectingly creepy Ben Kingsley).
While not as distinctively Bostonian as others on this list (Shutter Island is set in the 1950′s and is very much its own, hermetically sealed environment), Scorsese gives us an admirably distinctive sense of atmosphere and portent, unsettling audiences and keeping us off-balance as the film’s mysteries are gradually unfolded. As a film, it frustrated many. Its ambiguity, while one of its chief assets for admirers, left its detractors annoyed and displeased. Having said that, all can agree that its look, ambience and strong sense of time and place remain admirable. An under-rated gem.
6. Mystic River
Dennis Lehane, the author whose work was adapted for Gone Baby Gone, is again responsible for the source material of this excellent piece of film-making from the seemingly recently befuddled Clint Eastwood.
Lehane himself hails from Boston and gives Eastwood a fantastic story to work from. The film opens on a group of young boys playing in the street. A pair of men claiming to be cops appear and take one of them away. He is eventually found, but only after having suffered a terrible and terrifying ordeal. He grows up to be played by Tim Robbins, with Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn forming the other sides of the triangle of childhood friends. Bacon is now a cop, Penn a local businessman and powerful community presence. The power he wields in his neighbourhood proves to be of limited use though, when his daughter disappears and then is found dead. Given his troubled past (and present) and his inability to adequately explain his blood-stained hands on the night of Sean’s daughter’s disappearance, fingers point, guilt is presumed and decisive roads embarked upon.
Robbins and Penn both quite rightly picked up Oscars for their performances, though we are treated to barn-storming performances all round. Kudos to Eastwood as well for conveying such a rich sense of the neighbourhood in which these men have lived their whole lives. At the end, as Penn sits on the steps outside his house, watching a parade go by, meaningful looks are exchanged between the principals. It feels like a mini kingdom, with its own rules and rulers. As the voice over says at the beginning of the trailer, “there are places that make us who we are”. Intelligent, mature, challenging film-making.