Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck has made some questionable career choices. “Pearl Harbor” is the funniest movie ever made, though not intended to be; he completely destroyed “Daredevil”; and then came “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl”. The whole J-Lo thing is where public opinion really began to desert him. I’m sure they all sounded like good ideas at the time, but in retrospect I’ll bet he’d like a few of those back. But he was on “Voyage of the Mimi”. So even in the dark days I secretly rooted for him.

He’s got an Oscar for the “Good Will Hunting” script, but I’ll admit that when he moved to start directing movies I was surprised, and skeptical. As it turns out, he’s not bad at it. His new movie, “The Town” is a solid outing for a second film.
The cast is full of hot right now actors, including Jeremy Renner, who is everywhere, Jon Hamm, who is equally good on “Mad Men” and “30 Rock”, Blake Lively, and Rebecca Hall. And if you add Pete Postlethwaite to the mix, you’ve automatically got my attention. The performances are as good as you would expect given the caliber of talent involved.
The film looks great. It obviously owes a lot to movies like “Mystic River” and “The Departed”, but if you’re going to bite someone’s directorial style, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese aren’t bad places to start.
“The Town” has a nice feel and atmosphere, and Affleck, who also adapted Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince of Thieves” with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, makes full use of Boston as a setting. There are a lot of aerial shots of the labyrinthine streets, the twisting, claustrophobic avenues, and Fenway Park even gets some face time. Now don’t get me wrong, “The Town” is a good movie, I can’t say that it isn’t, but it isn’t anything special, it isn’t anything beyond just good. It is gritty and violent, and the building blocks for something awesome are there, but the story trips it up.
Apparently the Boston neighborhood Charlestown breeds bank robbers, it’s a family trade passed down from generation to generation. Doug MacRay (Affleck) is one of them. He tried to play professional hockey, but pissed all of his chances away on drugs and fighting. Now he and his crew, including childhood friend Gem (Renner), knock over armored cars for Fergie the Florist (Postlethwaite), a local gangster.
In the process of taking down a bank, they pick up Claire (Hall) as hostage. They release her, but take her ID in case she talks to the cops. Problems arise when they discover that Claire is from the neighborhood, so Doug decides to look in on her to make sure that she can’t identify them. She is traumatized by the ordeal, and, true to form, Doug falls for her, much to the chagrin of his boys. Adam Frawley (Hamm) is the FBI agent who is driven almost fanatically by his desire to take these guys down. It becomes a twisted world of lies, crime, and betrayal.
It isn’t a bad plot, but it is completely predictable. If you’ve seen the trailers and have even a vague idea of what it is about, they you’ll know what is going to happen. The story unfolds exactly as you expect.
“The Town” is disappointing because you know it could have been so much better. It could have been something you’d rave to your friends about. There is tension, drama, emotion, and action (there is a nice chase scene in the middle), and the frequent use of spooky masks. When Doug goes to Gem and says, “I need you to come with me, you can’t ever ask me why, and we’re going to hurt some people,” the moment is up there with the most badass things I’ve seen on screen in recent days. All the elements are in place, but it just never quite gets there. It is frustrating because it is so close to being incredible.
“The Town” could have soared alongside the best modern crime thrillers, but the story is too banal to distinguish it. Still, it is good, and definitely worth a watch, though I wouldn’t rush out to the theater to see it, but good—one syllable, flat, no inflection—is the best I can say about it. However, if this is a sign of things to come, Affleck is going to be responsible for some awesome movies before too long.

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