Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Town (2010)

The Town represents an interesting mix of the new and the old. Its a fairly conventional crime thriller, with the familiar set-up of guy robs banks because he has to, and all he really wants to do is get out of town. However, his crew won't let him get away so easy, so he agrees to once last heist before he has to flee. The Feds, you see, are putting pressure on them, and if he doesn't leave after this one, he'll be arrested or worse. It's also Ben Affleck headlining a movie, something that he hasn't done since 2007 in Smokin' Aces. But there's a twist here: despite the familiarity of the film, its told in a way that feels fresh, with Affleck's Doug falling for bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), who just happens to be the woman Doug and his crew kidnapped in their last job.
The film begins with a note saying that Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston, has more back robberies than anywhere else in the world. And, of course, this is the "town" the title refers to. The film succeeds at creating a sense of realism, shooting on location in Charlestown and casting locals as extras (some of them, reportedly, bank robbers themselves). From the authentic accents and dialogue to the narrow streets of Boston, part of the film's success lies in its ability to make everything believable.
Of course, the lion's share of the credit for this excellent goes to Affleck. His performance is wooden and he still lacks the magnetism and charisma needed to hold the screen, indicating that he hasn't improved much as an actor. But he also directs and co-writes the film, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Logan, and proves that the potential he showed in Gone Baby Gone is no fluke. He makes some excellent choices in the way he shoots the film, and handles action scenes well; the car chase through Downtown was particularly thrilling and well-staged, with a unexpectedly humorous punchline at the end. I don't think it matters that his films so far are only Boston-set crime thrillers; he's proven himself to be more than adept at them, and if these excellent love letters to his city are all he wants to make, I won't stop him.
Renner
The supporting cast is filled with terrific performances. Jeremy Renner continues his run of great roles here, playing Doug's childhood friend-turned-co-conspirator. He's a hardened thug, uninterested in the consequences and more than happy to participate in violence. Jon Hamm gets to ditch the suave of Don Draper for a moment to play a gritty, somewhat corrupt FBI agent hell-bent on finding Doug and his crew. Blake Lively gets to be tarted up for a few scenes as a floozy past love interest of Doug, who may or may not have had his kid. Pete Posthelwaite, a valuable asset to any movie, plays the Irish shopkeeper who plays puppetmaster to Doug's crew, and Chris Cooper nails his scene has Doug's incarcerated father. But its Hall who really shines here. She plays emotionally damaged better than many, and here she's prone to the same mistakes: she lets her guard down only to find herself in a terrible situation. She plays a messy, real person, and its a fine performance from an actress who's made fine performances her calling card.
Hall, with robber
I liked The Town a lot. Its not perfect, but as a gritty, "adult" crime thriller, its terrific entertainment and a showcase for how far Affleck's come as a filmmaker.

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