New Yorker film critic David Denby prefaced his list of his favorite films of the year with a tidbit about Boston on film. Denby wrote:
“In recent American movies, Boston—not New York, not Chicago, not Los Angeles, but Boston—has provided the significant setting and a special urban music of slang, oaths, nostalgia, taunts, affection. The cycle of Boston films began, in 1997, with “Good Will Hunting,” which was written by its stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who were childhood friends in Cambridge. Dennis Lehane’s soulful Boston thrillers have served as the basis of Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, “Mystic River” (2003) and Affleck’s directing début, “Gone Baby Gone” (2007). The Boston screenwriter William Monahan wrote “The Departed” (2006), in which Mark Wahlberg, from Dorchester, appears in a supporting role as a fast-talking cop; Wahlberg now stars in “The Fighter,” set in Lowell, just to the northwest of Boston, as the real-world boxer and welter-weight champ Mickey Ward. Earlier this year, Affleck appeared as a Charlestown bank robber in “The Town,” his second film as director, and he plays one of the local executives who get whacked by a downsizing Boston conglomerate in the new “Company Men.” That’s seven major films. Now, you could say that the entire phenomenon is sparked by Bostonian male stars. True, of course, but Affleck, Damon, and Wahlberg wouldn’t get money for these films from the hardnoses of Hollywood finance if the movies weren’t expected to resonate around the rest of the country. So what is the source of Boston’s appeal? All these movies are about white working-class ethnics—Irish Catholics, in particular—who can talk a blue streak, and all of them are about men and women in clans. Families, friends, neighbors. The clan makes you and it threatens to destroy you, and for the heroes (who are all male—Arise, ye daughters of Hibernia!), the question becomes: Do I leave or do I stay? Do I let the clan define me or must I strike out on my own? And for the rest of us, the question might be: Is this neighborhood and ethnic solidarity not only a celebration, an atmosphere of terrific rough talk and family warmth, but a shudder of anticipation, a last united stand in multicultural America?”
A timely question–one I’ll certainly be thinking about. The only shudder here is that Boston becomes, in Denby’s eyes, the last refuge of white America. We all know Boston has a tremendous reputation for racism–but more so than L.A., New York, or Chicago? If Denby wants someone in Boston to make Crash, he shouldn’t insult our intelligence. Even Shaq happily calls Boston home (this is a petty point, I know). And though the whiteys of The Fighter certainly come out clan-like, they’re worlds away from the people in Company Men or even Good Will Hunting. Boston is also home to the highest concentrated number of Brazilians outside of Brazil, another sign on if tremendous diversity which hasn’t yet seen the light of the camera or projector. Yet how right–despite how narrow–Denby’s analysis is will be shaken slightly off balance, I expect, by other films from The Hub, as the city continues its on-screen ascent.
by Brian Barth
The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010)
I’m always cautious of films made about Boston, and while Affleck makes sure to wear his location-specific windbreakers (Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots) he sheds them after about the fifth scene and I felt a little less summarized. The accents are all there, too, which is probably thanks to endless coaching from Affleck. And I’m not going to lie, it was awesome watching my block in the North End get blown up in a car chase and seeing my apartment in most of the wide shots; I loved my direct connection to the setting.