The Town – 2010
Director Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Slaine, Owen Burke
Screenplay Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard
There’s a moment in The Town where the 4 bank robbers, all Charlestown natives, are leaving the “switch car” dressed as Nuns with masks on. Looking across the street, they see a police officer sitting in his stopped car, just staring. They look at him, ponder, and the officer, knowing what is in store, chooses to look the other way. The decision saves his life. It’s the most riveting moment in the film filled with moments intended to be riveting.
It took a while to get motivated to see this film, given that the major artistic force behind the film is a guy whose career can best be described as spotty. One can count on a single hand the number of Affleck performances that are worth seeing. In fact, for me, Changing Lanes and Daredevil(for the attempt at a superhero flick more than the film itself) is just about the limit.
As for directing, Gone Baby Gone, was a decent start to things. The talent involved and his willingness to loosen the reigns a bit was a benefit. Then again, he wasn’t in that film. Seeing his mug pop up in the trailer for The Town placed me in an awkward position. Should one risk bad acting to see what could be a decent film? The answer to that question is: of course. The film is better than decent, and the acting ain’t half bad.
The good things about The Town is still, definitely the acting. Jeremy Renner is reaching for rarefied air and he should be at the top of the heap soon. This film is worth watching for his performance alone. As a sociopath with a wavering loyalty gene, he marches through the film in a realistic and not overwhelmingly sentimental fashion. As Jem, he does bad things, and not even for a real good reasons. This is the kind of acting that will have him in front of our eyes until he is older than dirt. The point in the movie alluded to earlier had me wondering most what he would do. The fact that he avoided the “hot head” thing and did the prudent thing seals his character. Later on, when contemplating the relationship between he and his sister, Krista, it is much easier to understand his real motivation: and it’s not what one would assume.
Another great performance is that of the late Pete Postlethwaite. His performance as the crime boss Fergie “The Florist” does more for the character than anything the screenplay provides. Perhaps it’s that as the heavy in the film, he has only but one fat, middle-aged guy providing the intimidation and protection for him at the same time. Any other actor would have made that arrangement seem naked to the world. It’s a compliment to Postlethwaite’s ability that we get the feeling that there are other more dangerous forces lurking somewhere off-screen.
As the imprisoned father of MacRay (Affleck), Cooper gives a poignant performance in his lone scene. His effortless misery pushes Affleck to another level that he rarely, if ever, has reached in the past.
Hamm and Welliver do well in their straight performances as the men in blue. Hamm’s Special Agent Frawley of the FBI retains some of the slick charm he has employed so effectively for years on Mad Men. One gets the feeling that were he not tasked with bringing these guys in, he could be running the show for the crooks. Welliver, as Boston Officer Dino Ciampa is under used, as usual. His performances are always on the periphery of something great.
The biggest weakness in The Town is the screaming lack of logic behind the film. When it would be obvious to put a tail on the main, once kidnapped bank manager, Claire (Hall), even mentioned by more than one character. Still, it doesn’t happen until the plot requires it. What’s more, once the task force has determined who their main suspects are, for some reason, they fail to put even the most casual stake out on them, in the midst of a robbery spree.
Hall’s performance is uneven, for the screenplay’s decision to give her most serious lapses in judgement, from the seemingly random bits of personal information that she shares with someone she barely knows, to her decision to just quit a couple of weeks after the trauma she suffered, then to her choices after she finds out what’s really going on. There is no real sense that a real human being would choose to do these things, even if she is pretty with great lips.
For Affleck’s part, he pretty much plays it by the numbers. He is somber when necessary and shows some flair when it’s time to move on his decisions. One has a hard time picturing just what it is that would make him the leader of this troupe, as he is almost never seen planning or even contemplating his next assignment. This film gives no sign that he will ever be anything more than a decent lead in a film, as there has been almost no movement on the needle since he first appeared on the big screen. He’s really just a big, somber, jaw. Anyone who doesn’t agree, just try to picture how much better this film would have been for all involved if his brother Casey had been in the lead.
The Town is a solid film, with well filmed action scenes that are not necessarily backed by any sort of logical premise. The big push to make everything so home-grown down to the nicknames is getting a little old. We get it, you’re not just from Boston, but a tough sub-section of Boston. Going a little loose with the facts, like 300 bank robberies a year, when Massachusetts itself has around 100 as a state. The acting is solid, though, and the characters allowed to breathe, for the most part. There is a good amount of tension, especially in from the moment they think they are free in the last heist through the rest of the film. A lot of clichés had to occur to get to the last act, but they don’t waste it. It’s the best part of the film.
(***1/2 out of *****)