The Town

2011-01-13 13:20
The Town
What it's about:

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is a career bank robber, just as his father was before him, from the notorious Boston neighbourhood, Charlestown – America's bank robbery capital. During a particular heist, Doug and his gang briefly kidnap the beautiful bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) who alerts the police. Tasked with killing Claire by his right-hand man James (Jeremy Renner), Doug is instead wracked with guilt over the ordeal he put her through and falls in love with her. Meanwhile a determined FBI agent (played by Mad Men's Jon Hamm) uses whatever means necessary to track Doug and his accomplices down.

What we thought:

Ben Affleck, bless him. He's worked rather hard over the last 10 years or so to somehow wipe the memory of Gigli and his equally disastrous Jennifer Lopez dalliance from the collective consciousness. He went from being the guy people referred to as the guy who won the Oscar with his best friend Matt Damon to, "Why did Ben Affleck win an Oscar, again?" in very little time. But since then he has settled down with his young family and taken artistic risks that almost demand to be seen. His foray into directing started with a gritty adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel Gone Baby Gone, in which he cast his brother Casey Affleck in the lead role, and brought an almost uneasy degree of realism to the Boston working classes from whence he came.

With his directorial debut, Affleck instantly became an actor-director (actor's director?) to watch, and that has made the hype and anticipation surrounding The Town, another Boston-set crime thriller, a well-earned honour for Affleck.

Recalling the sustained suspense of 70s action classics like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies and, more recently, Michael Mann's Heat, The Town is a taut, relentlessly paced exercise in seeing just how far the edges can be pulled before reaching breaking point – which it does, often. Not a moment of The Town is wasted. It's all white knuckle tension, fearsome confrontations and fantastically staged chase scenes and gun battles.

When we first see the MacRay gang attempt to escape the police, they seem like men who have gotten away with worse many times before. They skillfully navigate the streets of Charlestown even as every cop car in the city seems to be on their tail – and they have learned many lessons on how to avoid prosecution if they ever are caught, thanks to hours spent watching forensic TV shows like CSI and Bones. Even Doug admits to Claire in a rather sweet moment during their first date that he enjoys watching all kinds of cop shows.

These criminals are also hard to dislike. As the leader of a finely tuned outfit, Doug is certainly not a typical tough guy and sees the regret in his convict father's eyes (played by a rough-looking Chris Cooper) over the life that his son was born into. His relationship with Claire, a gentle soul who does community work with children and works in the municipal garden, shows him another reality – one in which he never has to fear for his life nor cause others the same distress.

The real enforcer in the operation is Doug's best friend and lieutenant James, a hardened ex-con who only has their next big heist – and their survival – in his sights. But he could possibly also be their weakest link.

The Town looks and feels like a movie in complete command of its narrative. It only threatens to fall into inanity once Blake Lively, who plays James' sister Krista, unleashes her indecipherable Boston accent and basically behaves like that one character in a good movie you wish would just go away. She's the hard-done-by local girl who was pretty and popular at school but got knocked up by a loser and discovered crystal meth. She'd be sympathetic – like Amy Ryan's negligent mother from Gone Baby Gone – if she weren't such drag on the plot.

That being said, it is the focus of the performances in The Town that sets this movie apart in a year where genres were not as clearly defined or as strongly motivated. This is the story of a community defined by crime, by fathers, brothers and sons who are not present in their families' lives, by a desperation that has become commonplace and almost expected.

Jeremy Renner, who is fulfilling the promise of his breakout role in The Hurt Locker, is a forcefield of pent-up rage and unpredictable menace as the one man who could both save and ruin his best friend. He also gets to shine in the movie's best scenes, particularly in the chaotic street gun battle towards the end of the movie. Before that epic final showdown, we are treated to action scenes that go from fast, to frenetic, to impossibly tense over the course of minutes.

The Town is one hell of a ride. Definitely worth seeing. And if Affleck can continue to attract this calibre of talent to star in his upcoming directorial projects, we have much to look forward to.

A taut, relentlessly paced crime thriller that marks Ben Affleck as a director to watch.

Bennett 2011/01/07 9:09 PM
That would be "taut" rather than "taught" unless we are supposed to have learned something from this movie...
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