Monday, September 20, 2010

The Town

Film: The Town (2010)
Dir: Ben Affleck
Rating: ****1/2 out of 5

Ben Affleck’s entrance into the limelight began with an Oscar-winning screenplay, and yet ever since the man has been an on-and-off laughing stock among filmgoers. Between highly-publicized romances off-screen and highly-unwatchable performances on-screen, Affleck had unwittingly disappeared into Matt Damon’s shadow. Now, after helming two critically-acclaimed films of his own, Affleck is finally a force to be reckoned with. His latest writing-directing effort is The Town, a Boston crime drama that rivals some of the best films in its genre (ie, Heat; The Departed).

Affleck portrays the lead, Doug MacRay, a good-hearted criminal who grew up in the small Boston town of Charlestown, where bank robbery has become a family trade. Doug’s adopted family is comprised of thieves and a junkie ex-girlfriend (Blake Lively). His closest friend is Jim (Jeremy Renner), a hot-headed bank robber who has no qualms about hurting anyone who stands in his way. Doug and his crew knock over armored trucks and the occasional bank with impressive precision.

They are great at what they do, much to the dismay of the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who is after them. During a local bank robbery, Jim takes manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage. After letting her go, Jim worries she might be able to identify them, so he asks Doug to get close to her. Doug ends up falling for Claire, and yearns to escape his lifestyle - but as with any crime family, getting out is never easy.

The Town grabs the viewer right from the start, and each subsequent action sequence gets better and better. Michael Mann’s Heat is a film that is famous for its incredible heist scenes, and frankly, The Town blows it out of the water. The robberies, the car chases, the stand-offs, the gunfire – all are expertly executed here. Affleck definitely has a knack for pacing and tension. Even the sets and costumes involved in each robbery are fantastic.

In addition to being a suspenseful heist film, it packs a pretty impressive script (co-written by Affleck also). All the characters are fantastic and the dialogue is both realistic and profound. Even Charlestown becomes a character itself, like a Godfather figure whom these small-town criminals worship and fear. The town is synonymous with the bank robbery lifestyle, and neither will let Doug walk away without a fight. He is torn between feelings for Claire and loyalty to his Charlestown family. The story here is a familiar cinema convention, but when it is told this well, the story never gets old.

Rounding out the great action sequences and script is a cast of fantastic actors. Affleck himself is really good in the lead role, topped only by the ever-wonderful Jeremy Renner. As Jim, he is intense, scary, and often hilarious. He is the character you know you should not root for but you cannot help it. Jon Hamm is also great as the proverbial “cat” in the cat-and-mouse chase between the FBI and the Charlestown gang. Hall and Lively also fill their roles well, as the women who define Doug’s future and past, respectively.

The Town is the type of movie that film critics and frat boys alike can enjoy. The drama is powerful and the action is intense. A few minor weak spots in the script keep it from perfect, but there is so much to love here. Much like Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, this film is sure to be lauded by the Academy. And judging by its performance at the box office this past weekend, filmgoers are getting on-board, too. Ben Affleck can breathe a sigh of relief that after this movie, nobody will even remember he was in Gigli.


Hitmandj said...

Good review, makes me want to see the damn film again, really was amazing, definitely within top 5 of the year. And possibly Affleck's best film he's been involved with.

Sean D. said...

I second what DJ said. I have the urge to see the movie again after reading your review. Nice writing! Affleck really did show a huge amount of versatility here. One minute he's directing a tense, dialogue driven scene at a cafe, the next he's directing adrenaline pumping car chase... A car chase with more coverage than I've seen any other film use recently, but it never feels overdone or too self-indulgent. Affleck definitely knows how to work his actors too, and in return they all put out great performances. You nailed it talking about Renner as Jim. He's terrifying, yet you can't help but root for him. He walks that line between monster and neighborhood hero without even the slightest misstep.

Tony said...

Sean hit the nail on the head for me too, I was afraid that it might be too self-indulgent having him direct and star in a lead role plus with the Hollywood personality he has been labeled with but my fears were assuaged because it wasn't at all. It was an excellent film, I still want to see Gone Baby Gone soon (I've wanted to for a while anyway because I really like Casey Affleck too).

This movie all by itself restores some of my respect for Affleck which was pretty low. I never saw Gigli or Pearl Harbor but I did see Daredevil and Reindeer Games... But the acclaim for his films seem well deserved because aside from being just a kick-ass film it is also incredibly well made. I like your frat boy and film critic alike comment because that is the perfect comment for it. Kick ass tense emotional action, crime family drama, and at the same time great pacing, dialogue-driven character interactions, and amazing camera-work. Kudos Holden McNeil, kudos!

P.S. Sorry for the long comment.