By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
A crew of professional thieves has been hitting every bank in Boston with militaristic precision. After pulling off a job at a Cambridge bank, they take the manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage after the alarm is tripped. Having pulled the job off, they let her go. Crew member James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) thinks the group should gather some intel and find if she has told the authorities any thing. Doug Macray (Ben Affleck) takes the job, but ends up falling for her instead. As their relationship blossoms, FBI agent Adam Frawley is determined to bring the crews spree of bank robberies to an end (Jon Hamm). As the heat intensifies, MacRay just wants to leave it all behind. Unfortunately, making it out of The Town won’t be so easy.
The Town is star Ben Affleck’s second effort as a director. It is based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves. Like Affleck’s previous film, Gone Baby Gone, The Town explores the darker side of life in Boston. It is a full-on genre piece, following the conventions of the cops and robbers film to a T. It will also likely be the film that establishes Affleck as an actor/director to be reckoned with.
Affleck keeps things very basic. The action takes place under gloomy, overcast skies and in dreary locations. Dark colors and washed out hues dominate the frame, making the characters feel tired and worn. The lighting seems to reveal every imperfection imaginable on the actors faces. This isn’t a Boston of pleasant fantasies or vivid nightmares. It exists in a sort of limbo where most people chase their boredom away with visits to the local bar after work. Most of them make their money legally. A rebellious few do not.
The action is exciting yet small scale. Affleck takes a few pages from the Michael Mann playbook, going for tactical realism. There are no shots of MacRay and his crew performing amazing acrobatics with guns in hand while evading capture by police. No thermonuclear explosions leaving characters right within the blast radius whole and un-singed. Every second of it is believable. There are the prerequisite car crashes and pyrotechnics, but it all adheres to a certain discipline. Affleck seems to really respect his audience in this regard.
The screenplay by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard owes a great debt to Micheal Mann’s Heat, but also to the cops and robbers films of old Hollywood. Anyone familiar with the genre will be able to anticipate almost every development of the story. However, The Town seems to follow the formula out of a sense of loyalty and tradition and opposed to a lack of imagination. Like the robbers themselves, it knows its job inside out. It knows what beats to hit and how to hit them. Watching the movie unfold is like watching a pro at work. You won’t see anything new, but you marvel at the efficiency.
As Doug Macray, Ben Affleck plays the same sort of aloof yet lovable average Joe as he has his whole career. That MacRay has a bit of a rougher edge than any of those characters does not make him wholly different from them. Rebecca Hall is basically a damsel in distress, but her lack of glamour makes her appealing in a very familiar way. Jeremy Renner has that most familiar of rolls in the modern crime film, the stone killer of the crew. Like the screenplay, he seems to operate out of a sense of both duty and realism. He knows what has to be done. He also knows his role in this world and cares about little else. Jon Hamm is a bean town Elliot Ness, without the schoolboy naiveté.
The Town is as solid a crime film as you will see this year, and the best heist movie in a good long while. Rarely does a film understand itself so thoroughly and go about its business so matter-of-factly. As a director, he shows a depth of understanding of the filmmaking process that he never seemed to possess with acting. Score one more for Ben Affleck. 4 out of 5
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