September 20, 2010

From a movie reviewer’s standpoint, it’s depressing that perhaps half of what determines whether a movie is good or bad isn”€™t terribly interesting to read about. For example, the musical score of The Town is pitch-perfect at eliciting the needed emotions from the audience, but nobody would ever listen to it on its own. It’s barely music”€”just long chords or nervous rhythm patterns or other tricks to manipulate us like lab rats. It’s not even obtrusive, like that nightmarish two-note theme in Inception. It just works.

The shrinking Irish slums of Boston have been growing in Hollywood’s consciousness, as exemplified by Oscar-laden crime movies such as Mystic River and The Departed. As the fascination with the New York Italian mafia that drove so many prestigious movies from the 1970s onward has gone down-market into Jersey Shore farce, interest in the clannish Boston Irish and their gangs, who hung on into the last quarter of the 20th Century, has become more fashionable.

As Boston gets ever richer and smarter, its old blue-collar tribal markers are being espoused by those in the market for authentic affectations. Affleck has become moviedom’s leading Sherpa to guide us into the white welfare housing projects in places like Charlestown and Dorchester, the setting for Affleck’s impressive first directorial effort, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. (Ben was born, personally, in Berkeley and raised in Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT, but to movie executives in Burbank: Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, who cares? It’s all Back East.)

Yet, the Irish can be a tougher sell than the Italians. Toward the small, sensual pleasures of life, the Irish have spent centuries cultivating aversions. For instance, the recent prizewinning novel Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a hard read because it plunges you so fast into dour Irish anhedonia.

Is there any relationship between the Irish fondness for giving each other fraternal concussions, as Affleck’s and Renner’s characters frequently do, and their urge to anesthetize themselves with alcohol and, in the slums of Boston and Dublin, heroin? It almost seems as if pain didn”€™t hurt as much, relatively speaking, because all of life hurts a little.

The Town deftly walks up to the edge of this mood without going the Full Irish on you.


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