September 23, 2010

An Imperfect Town, An Imperfect Movie

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Three years after the release of Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck stepped behind the camera again to direct last week’s box office champ, The Town. Like Gone Baby Gone, The Town is set in Massachusetts near Affleck’s hometown of Cambridge.

And, while Boston may elicit thoughts of the Red Sox and “parking the car,” Charlestown, Mass. is actually known for its bank robberies. A title card at the opening of the film informs viewers that this square mile of land contains more armored car and bank robbers than anywhere else in America.

During the 1990s thievery became a trade in Charlestown. Not unlike carpentry, the skills required to rob a bank were passed down from generation to generation. Such is the case with The Town’s main character, Doug MacRay (Affleck). After washing out of the NHL, MacRay returned home to pick up where his now imprisoned father (Chris Cooper) left off.

The Town opens with a heist gone badly. MacRay and his associates are forced to take the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage, after the silent alarm is tripped. Once it’s clear they’ve evaded the police, MacRay and company let Claire go. But when the group’s loose cannon, Jem (Jeremy Renner), discovers that Claire lives within walking distance of the group, Doug is forced to take action.

After tailing her for a bit, Doug “accidentally” runs into Claire at the local laundry mat and strikes up a conversation. Soon thereafter, the two become romantically entangled and Doug begins to question his career path. Essentially, she makes him want to be a better man. Unfortunately, Doug has become so entrenched in the lifestyle that getting out may be too difficult. And, it certainly doesn’t help that the FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is out to bust MacRay, Jem and the rest of their crew.

If The Town sounds like several other movies you’ve seen before, that’s because the film is riddled with clichés. Movies of the same genre, in this case heist films, tend to tread the same waters; it’s the nature of the beast. Unfortunately, The Town is bogged down by its allegiance to these tropes.

Screenwriters Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard abandon some of the richer character material midway through, choosing instead to focus on chase scenes and shootouts. Thankfully, as a director, Affleck is able to generate real excitement with the aforementioned chase scenes and shootouts; otherwise, the film’s already excessive runtime would feel truly bloated. Affleck also manages to capture Boston in all its magnificence, with some gorgeous shots of the cityscape.

The fairly predictable ending will be satisfying to some, but for others it will only reinforce how safe the writing team chose to play it. The stakes never feel quite high enough in The Town, even when the boys decide to take a job that requires them to rob Fenway Park.

Yet, what the film lacks in raw material, it mostly makes up for in delivery. The casting of this film is rather superb, and every principle member gets at least one scene to shine. As MacRay, Affleck’s performance is somewhat understated. Many of his better moments are quiet and contemplative. Contrastingly, Renner’s performance as Jem is both loud and demanding of attention. Though not a Boston native, Renner’s accent sounds the most authentic of anyone in the film. And, after a year that saw him nominated for The Hurt Locker, it is entirely plausible that he could again earn an Oscar nod for this.

Cooper has very little to do as Steve MacRay, but he makes the most of his screen time. His one scene offers up more emotion than any of Hamm’s. Though Hamm tries desperately to make Agent Frawley more than a cookie-cutter “straight man,” the role is simply too thin to elevate.

The cast is rounded out by Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively. Hall is asked to deliver some of the script’s more ridiculous dialogue, for example “Sunny days make me think of death.” Nevertheless, she is able to mine some emotional depth from her character. Lively is a scene stealer, as Jem’s drug-addicted sister Krista. Like Cooper, she is able to make the most of her limited role.

Overall, The Town is an above average film, albeit an imperfect one. Yet, it would hardly be a surprise if the film picks up several Academy Award nominations when the time comes.

3 Towers

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht