Thursday, September 9, 2010

Glorified Gangsters and Evil Angels - THE TOWN and VALLANZASCA

(Venice, Italy) Charlestown: a Boston neighborhood that has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other single square mile in the world.

That is the log line of Ben Affleck's solid second directorial effort, The Town, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, in which the neighborhood of Charlestown also features as a character in the movie. The idea of a space as a character with a personality seems to be a running theme this year at La Biennale, not only in film, but in architecture -- see If Buildings Could Talk. Instead of a talking building, in The Town, Charlestown speaks to us through the voices of the human beings that have grown up there -- we get to eavesdrop on their Code of Silence. Everyone in the 'hood knows what's going down, but nobody talks, which makes crime a thriving business.

How does a space breed bank and armored car robbers? At one time, Charlestown was the site of a maximum security prison, and folks moved into the neighborhood to be close to their loved ones. In the press book, Affleck says: "It served as a kind of revolving door. People would go to prison and their families would move there, and, as they got out and then went back in, a community developed around it. It was hypothesized in the book -- and we included it in the film -- that robbing banks became a trade that was passed down from fathers to sons."

Makes sense. It also makes this statistic from the Financial Times about the state of California more chilling:

Public funding for higher education in California has been squeezed in recent years. Thirty years ago, 10 per cent of California’s general budget was spent on the UC (University of California) and California State systems and 3 per cent was allocated to prisons.
But in the past three decades spending on prisons has risen to 11 per cent of the state’s revenue, while higher education’s share has slipped to 7.5 per cent

At the press conference Ben Affleck, who also gives a stellar performance in the film as Doug MacRay, said he was fascinated by the idea that where we grow up shapes what we become, and how children pay for the sins of their parents. Affleck also co-wrote the film with Aaron Stockard, who are both from Boston. Even though they grew up in Cambridge, "a stone's throw away from Charlestown," it was another world entirely. Stockard said, "We knew its reputation, but we assumed that most of it was overblown. It turned out that what we thought were mythical notions about Charlestown were actually true, which made the story even more appealing to us."

If that makes The Town sound like a cops and robbers boys' flick, it's not just that. Affleck says, "It's interesting because, on the one hand, you have this outer shell of a heist movie, but at its heart, the story is about a guy who's dealing with being stuck in a place he doesn't want to be and wants to change his life, which was much more compelling to me.It's about how rooted you are in how you grew up and also about children paying for the sins of their parents. I think that's something many people can identify with, even those of us who can't necessarily related to the criminal aspect."

Well, in addition to all that, The Town also happens to be a love story. Affleck's character Doug falls for a  bank manager named Claire (played by the talented Rebecca Hall) whom the gang took hostage during a masked robbery and then released, blindfolded, so she doesn't know who her kidnappers were. It's an interesting element that really works, and adds depth to the story.

In another shoot 'em up, Michele Placido's Italian film, Vallanzasca, Gli angeli del male, or "Vallanzasca, Angels of Evil" the very charismatic Italian actor, Kim Rossi Stuart, plays the very charismatic Italian mobster, Renato Vallanzasca, who is still alive and currently serving four consecutive life sentences. From Wikipedia:

Renato Vallanzasca Constantini (Milan, May 4, 1950) is a notorious Italian mobster from Milan who was a powerful figure in the Milanese underworld during the 1970s. Following numerous robberies, kidnappings, murders, and many years as a fugitive, he is currently serving four consecutive life sentences with an additional 260 years in prison, but with permission to work outside during the day. This enables him to go to work every morning in a workshop in the periphery of Milan, making bags from recycled material. He is a local celebrity in Milan, famous for appealing to part of the public opinion for his image linked to the "myth of the bandit".

Click HERE to read the entire article.

After this movie, Vallanzasca is sure to become a national celebrity, if not an international one. It's a terrific film even though it romanticizes and glorifies a mobster, but a mobster who has a strict code of rules, such as: no messing with innocent family members. At one moment in the film, Vallanzasca complains about the new batch of criminals, and how they have no morals -- so it's not just oil companies and Wall Street who are having integrity problems these days. If the evil angels are complaining, things have got to be bad.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

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