Arts, Movies, Column

The Town: The New Heroes Of Boston’s Film Tradition

Colin Sullivan stares adoringly at the Massachusetts State House as he sits in Boston Common. Its golden globe shimmers in the sun-this building represents all of his aspirations. His friend tells him, “Forget it, your father was a janitor and his son’s only a cop.” Just a few scenes later however, Colin buys an apartment overlooking this monument, proving that a working class boy can make it in Boston (if he’s willing to lie, kill, and steal). Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film The Departed put Boston firmly in the spotlight as the movie won four Academy Awards and worked its way up many a film buff’s top 10. I’m not ashamed to admit that it was this movie that convinced me to come to Boston on my year abroad, even if the majority of the movie was shot in New York. Outside his work in The Departed, Matt Damon has consistently represented a fictional version of Boston in movies, as has his childhood friend Ben Affleck. Together, the pair reveals a Boston that might not do great things for the city’s tourist trade, but certainly does fantastically at the box office. New York is often at the center of East Coast Hollywood movies, so shouldn’t this interest in Boston be celebrated more often?

One could say it all started with Good Will Hunting(1997). Although relatively unknown at the time, Damon and Affleck, both natives of Boston, placed the city at the center of their screenplay. With homages to moments like Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series, this was a film made for Bostonians.

It wasn’t until the 2000s, however, that Boston really hit the movie map. In the years 2006, 2007, and 2010, Damon and Affleck ensured that Boston dominated movie theaters. By examining the relationship between the Irish mob and the police, Scorsese moved the story of The Departed-originally set in Hong Kong with Infernal Affairs-to the streets of Boston. Even though the majority of The Departedwas filmed in New York, Scorsese used famous landmarks like the State House, Boston Common, and Charlestown’s waterfront so audiences could identify the beloved city. Even if The Departedfocused on the seedier sides of the city, the fantastic script and performances ensured that this is a movie Boston can be proud of.

In many ways,Gone Baby Gonewas Ben Affleck’s comeback movie, so it is no surprise that he relied on his native Boston for his directorial debut. Affleck shared responsibility for this movie with his younger brother, Casey Affleck, and together they create an emotionally nuanced and challenging movie. Certainly, the city takes a backseat as Dennis Lehane’s haunting story demands so much from its actors. Affleck’s rewrite of Lehane’s novel, however, uses Boston to imbue the film with authenticity. The city’s shadows cast even more gloom on this tragic story.

Affleck returned to Boston for his second attempt at directing. While filming The Town, Jon Hamm allegedly said that walking around Boston with Affleck was comparable to walking around with the mayor. This suggests the impact that Affleck has had on the city in recent years and vice versa. Once again, the movie focuses on crime in Boston, but this time, it is confined to Charlestown with the movie’s opening quote alleging that the one blue-collar Boston neighborhood “produces more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere in the world”: Charlestown. This damning statement, as well as Boston itself, is integral to the movie’s story of redemption.

The authenticity that lies behind these movies is what makes them a celebration of this city. In The Town, non-Bostonians Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively spent time in Charlestown with locals, and Gone Baby Gonewas filled with many Massachusetts locals as extras. Mark Wahlberg even based his performance in The Departed on the numerous police officers who arrested him when he was growing up in Dorchester. Damon’s decision to spend time with a Boston police unit and Scorsese’s choice to use a real Boston newscaster in The Departedalso shows the commitment these filmmakers have to Beantown. The Town‘s premiere even took place at Fenway Park, exemplifying the commitment of these young Boston filmmakers to the city. Affleck frequently attends games at the stadium. It’s a way of keeping close to his home city-to know it, to be it.

May 1, 2014