Globetrotting the Hollywood way

FILM
EAT, PRAY, LOVE
Cert: 12A

Well it’s certainly handsome, but then it’d be difficult for a film primarily set in Italy, India and Bali, and with such luminously attractive stars as Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, not to be. Based on memoirs of bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, it stars Roberts as Liz, a New York-based writer whose marriage is on the rocks. So she divorces hubby, strikes up a relationship with a younger actor but doesn’t find fulfilment there either. Clearly, it’s time to go on a search for some spiritual equilibrium in picturesque surroundings, so off Liz trots to Italy, then India and finally Bali – she eats a lot in Rome, prays and meditates a bit in an Indian ashram and gets down to some loving with Javier Bardem’s brawny divorcee in beautiful Bali.

So, as I said, it’s handsome, and never more so than when focusing on the gorgeous dishes of Italian food. Roberts is good in a part she fits like a glove, adding a layer of depth that is absent from the script. But hell’s bells, this is horribly indulgent stuff. From its simplistic, postcard views of foreign countries to its duff, patronising philosophising, this is boring, badly written and hugely annoying. About as authentic as a Disney cartoon, it’s like staring at a huge cloud of smug for two hours and being expected to feel better as a result. You won’t.

THE TOWN
Cert: 15

Ben Affleck’s promising foray into directing continues with this crime thriller, which, though essentially a nuts and bolts crime drama, is put together so well that any hang-ups about its over-familiarity can comfortably be put on hold.

The ‘Town’ in question is Charlestown, Boston, which apparently holds the accolade of producing more bank and armoured car robbers than any other place in the world. As well as directing, Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a career criminal who begins a relationship with a former hostage of his, bank manager Claire Keesey (English actress Rebecca Hall). She’s oblivious that he’s the guy who robbed her bank and kidnapped her.
Increasingly looking for a way out of the criminal life, MacRay finds that leaving Charlestown and the life he’s led there isn’t as easy as he might have hoped. He finds himself in a stranglehold of surveillance and intimidation, with his every move watched by the FBI (in the form of Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), while also under the grip of Pete Postlethwaite’s sinister crimelord.

Of course, despite its gritty subject matter The Town is a polished Hollywood picture. Hunky Affleck doesn’t really convince as a local thug with a late-blooming heart-of-gold, while Hall’s doe-eyed Keesey also seems somewhat one-dimensional. Whilst The Town doesn’t have the grit or the complexity of The Wire, to which it seems in part indebted, Affleck still delivers a compelling film that achieves a precise balance between sympathetic character development and white-knuckle action. A clear success.

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