Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Town (2010) Review

The Town
I’ll see this movie again…this year or the next

It’s not very often that you find an actor who actually listens to the criticism leveled against him/her for most of their career. Many of them seem to feel that despite their arguably faulty choices of movies to take part in, they have created a comfortable formula that should get people into theater seats because of their movie star appeal and mainstream accessibility. Ben Affleck fell into this trap for a period of time (around the early 00s). After his breakout Oscar win for best screenplay with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, Affleck started starring in a string of increasingly bad movies such as Pearl Harbor, Gigli (considered to be one of the worst movies of all-time), and Jersey Girl. But then he appeared to take those critical failures to heart, reducing himself to supporting roles and eventually took it upon himself to start directing. His debut Gone Baby Gone, put his brother Casey in the lead rather than himself and would go on to garner considerable acclaim with both critics and audiences. And now with The Town, Affleck pulls triple-duty as actor, director, and co-screenwriter to remind everyone that he can still be a force to be reckoned with.

Plot Synopsis: While robbing a bank in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, one of the employees trips the silent alarm and the gang (Doug, Jem, Gloansy, and Dez) resorts to taking the bank manager Claire hostage. They eventually let her go after their escape, but when Jem learns that she lives only a few blocks from one of them, Doug takes it upon himself to find out if she will say too much to the FBI, fearing that Jem’s explosive tendencies will tip them off to her. Unexpectedly, Doug starts becoming attracted to her, and they slowly start a relationship while she is still unaware of his true nature. Soon Jem and the rest of the gang learn of this situation, and they confront Doug to try and explain to him how much of a danger she is to their operations.


Just as with Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s Boston roots shine through in the writing department as he convincingly pulls us into the films Charlestown setting, filling it with characters that range from innocent, to morally conflicted, and then to downright seedy. The grim aura looming over Doug’s head, the thought that he cannot escape this life is present throughout the film, lending the story a gritty authenticity to both the story and sharp-tongued dialogue. FBI Agent Frawley, played with steel-jawed magnetism by Jon Hamm, gets many of the best lines especially during the sole scene between him and Doug. There’s also a surprising amount of humorous moments and lines that help to keep the story from becoming overly dour while still allowing the thick tension to run throughout the plot. A great example of this comes in the form of a tattoo on Jem’s neck, which was seen by Claire during the robbery. A fairly light scene between her and Doug at lunch suddenly becomes unbearably intense when Jem decides to sit down with them and we keep wondering if he’s going to mess up and turn his head the wrong way.

Affleck wears the movies Heat influences proudly on his shoulders, smartly evoking that movies dark and grounded tone without openly resorting to becoming a rip-off (something Takers should have learned). The three bank robbery set pieces each ramp up the stakes from the one before it, although the big showstopper is the much-advertised nun themed assault that turns into a claustrophobic car chase. The cramped streets of Boston are effectively milked for all their worth in this sequence, with situations where civilian cars could come out of nowhere and unpredictably change the path of the chase. The final shootout at a popular Boston attraction certainly puts up a good challenge too, with the tight editing and pounding gunfire effects selling the scene as a satisfying and suspenseful climax. The gritty realism also helps to ground the screenplays more clichéd aspects (the last job, the romantic interest, etc.) in believable terms so that they serve the story without overshadowing everything else.


And while I have been raving about Ben Affleck’s work as a writer and director here, his turn as Doug MacRay is probably one of the best performances he has ever given. The cocky grin and personality ticks that he usually shows in his roles have been shed here, replaced with a world-weariness and inner conflict present in his face in a way we aren’t accustomed to from the actor. The chemistry between him and Rebecca Hall, as Claire, helps to sell their otherwise credibility-pushing romance. In the trailers, their relationship seemed forced, but after watching the film it felt pretty natural and believable. The major flaw with this is that after around the halfway point the plot seems to drop their story until the last ten minutes. It felt like the writers couldn’t figure out how to factor her into things after a certain point. Jeremy Renner’s Jem is similar to his role in The Hurt Locker, but with a greater sense of anger and shoot-first attitude that makes even his friends afraid of him. His disarmingly charming personality only makes him an even scarier person when he loses his cool during a robbery. Small appearances from Blake Lively (Krista), Chris Cooper (Stephan MacRay), and Pete Postlethwaite (Fergie) round out the cast, with Postlethwaite exuding a considerable amount of menace from his limited screen time.

In addition to the underdeveloped use of the love thread in the last half, there were other parts of the plot that could have been fleshed out or elaborated on more. As great and commanding as Jon Hamm is, Frawley feels rather two-dimensional as a character, and some little details could have made him a more fully-formed character. There were also a couple of points where I was confused on how the plot moved from A to B, such as with the rather rushed arrest of the robbers at one point. It’s that one big flaw and those little nitpicks that hold The Town back from becoming the next Good Will Hunting or The Departed, but all the ingredients that work are substantial enough to highly recommend it to everyone, especially those who have been let down by the thin slate of memorable movies this year.


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