TIFF ’10: Affleck anchors ‘The Town,’ and there’s real beauty in ‘Biutiful’
By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: A bleak start to the Toronto International Film Festival … not due to quality, but due to content. I don’t have time to dig too deeply into either film from this morning, as I’m running out the door to an evening double feature. But here are quick takes on the latest from Ben Affleck and Alejandro González Iñárritu:
The Town (*** out of 4 stars)
“The Town” confirms what “Gone Baby Gone” suggested: Ben Affleck can direct the hell out of a gritty, Boston-based crime thriller. Having seen “The Town,” I’m convinced Affleck has the talent to think outside the close-knit, scruffy neighborhoods of his beloved Boston. I’m just not sure I want him to drift too far from this (un)comfort zone, though, as it is rich in stories yet to be told.
The plot involves a team of bank robbers (led by Affleck) who question whether a pretty hostage (Rebecca Hall) can identify them. As Affleck gets close to this woman – and dreams of a better life outside the confines of the Charlestown neighborhood – a whip-smart FBI agent (Jon Hamm) draws ever closer to the robbers’ trail.
In one of the film’s note-perfect investigative scenes, Hamm says Affleck’s team can “plan and execute with sophistication and discipline.” I’d say the same about Affleck, who directs with a crisp, economic precision. Jeremy Renner, Hall and Chris Cooper (in a brief scene) show they’ve tapped into Affleck’s vibe. And while one or two script conveniences needed to be cleaned up, Affleck’s “The Town” comes across as a solid, riveting thriller from a gifted, gritty filmmaker.
Biutiful (***1/2 out of 4 stars)
“Biutiful” is a tough film to embrace. It will alienate a large number of people who aren’t interested in investing their time and attention in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s focus, which is death. I get that. Despite the title, “Biutiful” is anything but until the film’s final scene, which is transcendental … if you make it that far.
The glue holding it all together is Javier Bardem. The naturally handsome actor hides beneath a thick, impenetrable, and morose fog of uncertainty and despair to play Uxbal, a black-market dealer who is dying of cancer. Uxbal has a unique power. He can communicate with the restless spirits of the recently deceased. We’re interested because he’s a restless spirit, himself. Burdened by the knowledge that he has months left to live, Uxbal struggles to find a worthy caretaker for his two children before time runs out.
Bardem captivates as a man trying desperately to hold everything together as his world falls apart. He’s aided by Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose storytelling techniques bind “Biutiful” in distinct places even as the “Babel” director narrows his focus to one man and the impact of his actions. The director’s still interested in the global condition – particularly, how difficult it is to survive when poverty is consuming huge populations – and he manages once again to show us how we’re all connected.
But “Biutiful” works because it’s focus isn’t only on death, which would be an insufferable trudge. Yes, Iñárritu explores how we die in the film. He also, however, asks us how we live, and in those answers, we find the real beauty of “Biutiful.”
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