Movie Review

Movie Review – Town, The

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– Summary –

Director : Ben Affleck
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, John Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, Pete Posthlewaite, Titus Welliver.
Major Award Wins : Nil.
Approx Running Time : 125 Minutes  (Theatrical Version)
Synopsis: Doug MacRay lives a life of crime in Charlestown, robbing banks with his best friend and associates. This life is put into perspective when he falls for a woman he took hostage in a previous escapade, and he realizes that escaping the fear of being caught is going to be harder than he thinks.
What we think : Superbly directed film, with some great performances (Renner especially – he was nominated for an Oscar in this role!) that delivers an exciting, human drama punctuated by survival-at-all-costs violence. Unflinching, realistic cops-and-robbers flick delivers a hefty one-two punch from Affleck, and lands both square on the jaw.

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I was having a conversation the other night with my wife, the gorgeous Lisa T, about whether actors make good directors, or make better directors than director-directors: that is, those who have no experience in front of the camera as opposed to those who do. It’s an interesting question, to say the least, because there’s plenty of arguments either way: Clint Eastwood, of course, being perhaps the most prominent actor/director working today who’s just at ease in the eye of the lens as he is lining one up. Then again, there’s the visualist school of thought that says the actor should stay in front of the camera and let those who direct, direct. I’m ambivalent about the whole thing, mainly because I believe each person who steps behind the camera to direct a film bring their own vision, and ability, to the project. Be it the explosive chaos of Michael Bay, the unwavering elegance of Hitchcock, or the sentimentality of Spielberg, most directors are supreme visualists yet often leave the “acting” to the actors, making a film which is great to watch yet invariably lacking in “character” – mind you, this is a broad generalization and should in no way reflect my views on the three directors I just mentioned. Actor/directors, I think, are better at getting better performances out of their cast, leaving the visual bravado to the DOP and editorial staff. It’s not always the case, I know, and I think there’s a winning argument either way you turn, but looking at the last few years worth of actors trying their hands at directing, the case could be made that actors can get better performances out of other actors than a director with no acting experience at all. So we come to The Town, a film directed by co-Oscar winning screenwriter Ben Affleck, his second film after debuting with Gone Baby Gone. Affleck’s been around the industry for a while, as both a writer and (more prominently) as an actor, appearing in everything from Michael Bay’s Armageddon, Kevin Smith’s Dogma, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, Kevin Smith’s Clerks II, Changing Lanes, Gigli (urghhh), Forces Of Nature (uurgghh), Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, Smokin’ Aces, and just to cap it all off, She’s Just Not That Into You (urrgh). J-Lo aside, is there anything this man hasn’t done?

Sittin’, thinkin’.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner) are criminals, robbing banks and armored vehicles with the rest of their gang: after one particular robbery they take a woman hostage, a woman who has the potential to identify them to the FBI. MacRay follows the woman, Claire (Rebecca Hall) to see if she could, and finds himself falling for her. Doug’s somewhat psycho friend Jem, who did a stretch in prison for a previous crime, behaves a little unhinged-like, and when he threatens to clean up after Doug, Doug realizes just how screwed up his life has become. Problem is, he can’t just walk away: various mob connections and his friendships within the Charleston, Boston, community prevent him from just leaving. So he must once more commit a robbery to score enough money to finally end his life of crime – only this time, the FBI are waiting for him, and Claire discovers just who he is.

Freeeeddoooooooommmmm!!!!

I don’t want to spoil this film for those who haven’t seen it, and if you are among those who haven’t seen it, can I recommend you do so quickly. The Town is a film destined quite wrongly to become buried within the slurry of crime-themed films jostling for position on the shelf at your DVD rental, and before you’re caught trying to decide to watch whatever sci-fi opus hits the shelves next week. Character driven films, of which this is a prime example, seem to get left behind in the mass-market commercial world of film rentals and hyped Event cinema. until Oscar time comes along, when if a film has an explosion it’s automatically excluded from the ceremony. Well, it seems that way, doesn’t it? I began this review with comments about actor/directors, and how I believe they can produce a better performance from a fellow actor than a pure director can, and I think this is a film which could be held up as Exhibit A. Affleck, who commands the screen with a nuanced, subtle portrayal of a man caught between the life he wants to lead and the life he does lead, helms this slow-burn thriller with the dexterity of a seasoned directorial professional. It’s hard to believe that this is only his second “Directed By” credit, such is the films’ balance between character driven drama and outright action. The Town may not be the prettiest, most eye-candy kind of film this year, but it’s a workmanlike effort that delivers both a human drama and plenty of thrills. Affleck drew an Oscar nominated performance from co-star Jeremy Renner, who had found himself on the Oscar carpet the year prior after being nominated for Best Actor (in The Hurt Locker), and gave us an affecting performance from Rebecca Hall as MacRay’s love interest Claire – Hall appeared in The Prestige, Frost/Nixon, Dorian Grey and Vicky Cristina Barcelona: her star is on the rise, I’d suspect, after a convincing portrayal of an innocent woman drawn into the darkness of Boston’s underworld.

Bill and Ted’s staring competition enters its sixth day…

Where the film draws its strength is in its characters: these people are the real, breathing, bleeding street folks of Charlestown, a suburb of Boston where, according to the title cards at the commencement of the film, criminals are bred and law seems insipid. Affleck’s portrayal of Charlestown seems much like a scaled down version of the Bronx, a wild-west place where after-dark strolling is suicidal and crime gangs rule the streets. I’ve been assured this isn’t exactly the case, as there seem to be plenty of good, law abiding citizens currently domiciled in Charlestown, but this film isn’t about them. It’s about the underbelly. MacRay is a man who’s starting to see his life slip away in a spray of bullets and dodging cops: and he hates it. His life exists in fear and terrorizing others, at the expense of his own humanity and soul. His attraction to Claire, the manager of a bank he robs and who his gang takes hostage, is pretty evident; she leads a life he wants, with no running from the cops or waiting to see which upstart crime-gang he has to put down, and he reaches out to be a part of it. It is, frankly, a soul defining change of character for him, and it sets him on the path to restitution, if only he didn’t keep being dragged back into things by his world. Doug’s world is drugs, money and robbery, with his future bleak indeed. The needle in his arm, metaphorically speaking, keeping him hooked on this crime-drug, is his friend Jem, a man who uses his recent prison stretch as a guilt trip to keep Doug onside. Jeremy Renner nails the part of Jem, the slightly unhinged and altogether warped Charlestown-ite who’s love for violence is only barely superseded by his love for Doug. Their connection, their history, is a steep hill for Doug to overcome in order to let go of his life, and the bulk of the film sees him fighting, initially with a large degree of guilty betrayal, against this history.

The next Lara Croft?

John Hamm (Mad Men), as well as off-sider Titus Welliver (seen here in Australia on TV show The Good Wife), are solid as the FBI agents pursuing MacRay and his gang, although they’re perhaps the least developed of all those appearing in the film. Hamm is square jawed and righteous, perfect for the cliched Federal agent, giving the required performance for a man obsessed with the chase and capture, yet always one step behind. I think, if there’s any real weakness with Affleck’s screenplay here (yes, he co-wrote the script as well!) it’s with John Law. But the focus isn’t on this aspect of the story, it’s on the relationships MacRay has with his friends, his girl, and the city in which he lives. Blake Lively, who audiences saw in Gossip Girl and those godawful Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants films (yes, I’ve seen them, and don’t bloody ask, okay?) makes a good go of the skanky former girlfriend of MacRay, although she is outclassed as an actress by those around her. That’s not to say she’s bad, not at all. It’s just that she’s on screen with some very, very good talent, and she’s barley able to keep up.

You come here often?

While the film is primarily a character driven piece, there are a number of set-piece action sequences to keep the thrills in the film bubbling away. The opening bank robbery sequence, directed with remarkable restraint by Affleck, followed mid-way through the film by a cool car chase and shoot out, and culminating in a massive police stand-off at Fenway Park (home to the Boston Redsox), are all given a sparkling sense of urgency by the deft hands of DOP Robert Elswitt, who keeps the restraint on nice and tight with both the editing and the minimal use of multi-angle glory shots. It’s the kind of format audiences often wish Michael Bay would learn. There’s a grounded realism here, the kind of style often missing from mainstream action films: although at one stage a car does blow up with only a bit of fuel and a cigarette lighter – a moment which does tend to ruin the urban flavor of what is an otherwise straightforward action sensibility. The action, while I will praise it for being quite tense and exciting, isn’t as slick as higher profile films (and feels like it owes a lot to Michael Mann’s Heat), I guess, which is a result of Affleck perhaps being more attuned to the characters as opposed to the action – this is in no way a bad thing, but his eye for action isn’t as sweet as his eye for character. The balance between the two has swung in favor of the characters.

Nice coffee. I got some too.

If I had a problem with The Town, it’s that I wasn’t sure why I should be liking the people I was watching. Almost nobody outside of Claire and Doug had any real redeeming qualities, even the FBI agents following them. The script tended to favor the soft-filter love story as a traditional Hollywood romance, unlikely as this pairing was ever going to be, and at times I think the behavior of Claire, once she discovered who Doug actually was and what he did, tended to get a little strange for a woman so traumatized as she was, and this diluted some of the great character development from earlier in the film. Chris Cooper barely appeared before he left again, never to be seen again, and some of the background characters in Doug’s life were underwritten, making empathy for his choice between Jem and Claire more difficult for the audience to understand. Small things that mattered, even though they were lost in the general style and flavor the film gave out.

I want my phone call.

I really liked The Town a lot: that much is obvious. It’s a solid, absorbing thriller with plenty of great moments of character for the ensemble cast – led by a restrained Ben Affleck. The human side of the drama is what draws you in, punctuated by moments of violence and desperation. I don’t think, though, that the re-watch factor will be high for this flick from more generic audiences, but those who favor character over overblown action histrionics will find plenty to devour within the framework of Affleck’s piece here. Sharply written, superbly acted by Affleck, Renner and Hall, and with a shadowy, pulp-polish and independent-film sheen, The Town is essential viewing for those who seek quality entertainment.

8-Star

 

 

 

 

 

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21 COMMENTS

  1. The action sequences are awesome, and the performances keep this film up, alive, and running. Even though the love story may not work so well, I still couldn't take my eyes off of watching it. Good Review!

    • Thanks Dan! Yep, The Town is definitely worth a look, if only for the acting!! The action sequences are pretty intense at times, but the film doesn't swell on the blood and gore, which makes a change. Well filmed and well acted! Thanks for dropping in!!!

  2. i loved this movie as well. Perfect balance of action, drama and the problems with love. i was disappointed by Blake Lively's range (or lack thereof) but she just looked so damn good at acting badly that my heart was in the right place (i.e. my lap). Thanks for another 5-star review, brother.

    • Blake Lively seemed outclassed in every scene she was in – except the one at the end with Ben Affleck in the hotel room… I thought she did okay with that. Not sure I need that mental picture about your lap, though Al!!! 🙂

  3. Still haven't seen this but I definitely want to. I like the cast but I was one of the few who didn't like Affleck's previous film as director Gone Baby Gone. However, I probably need to see that one again.

    • Hmm, I don't know if I can possibly talk you into this then. It's definitely worth at least one look, because I thought it had way more positive moments than negatives. Might need to be in a more serious frame of mind to appreciate it, though. It's not a comedy….

  4. I liked this more than I thought it would. While many plot-points feel familiar, I still enjoyed them because overall, the movie is well-made and well-acted. I think the weakest point was the central romance between Affleck and Hall's characters, it just didn't feel… central at all.

    • Which, considering the love aspect of it was pretty much the core of Doug's decision to get out of Charlestown, makes it all the more annoying that it wasn't developed as well as it could have been. Thanks for dropping in Castor!

  5. I felt that The Town was highly overrated, and the story totally implausible. The Doug/Claire romance was weak, immature and teen-like, and the dialogue rather mawkish.

    Ben Affleck's directing and acting was rather weak, as he just didn't have either the looks or the personality to play a rough and tough bank robber from the tough Charlestown neighborhood. Rebeccca Hall was overrated as Claire, who is just a weepy, neurotic chick, as some people say.

    The whole idea of a bank robber falling in love with a woman who's not a Townie, that he and his men robbed at gunpoint while wearing masks, is totally implausible to me. In real life, a bank robber wouldn't be so sympathetic and humane towards his victims, let alone fall in love with her, but be much more of an abuser and a user. I know this is just fiction, but come on! The town-gown tensions here in Boston are far too acute for a relationship between a Townie and a "Toonie" to be even remotely possible.

    Doug was on the lam from the law, which was why he was leaving Charlestown for Florida. He ended up leaving without Claire for at least a couple of reasons:

    A) Doug got what he really wanted out of her; a promise not to squeal to the Feds, which is why he put the romance moves on her in the first place.

    B) I believe that Doug (and, hopefully, Claire), knew, at some level, that Doug couldn't hide out from the Feds forever, and that he'd eventually be hunted down by the law and caught, perhaps violently. Doug and Claire could not realistically be together, and the phrase "I know I'll see you again, this side or the other" is a emphemistic way of pointing that out.

    Claire, imho, was rather naive, or willfully stupid, to have given Doug the benefit of the doubt in the first place. She could've saved herself tons of trouble and heartache if she'd taken the time to size him up and pick up on the hints, such as the slightly familiar voice of Doug's, not to mention the creepy, leering looks that he kept giving her in the laundromat. Doug and Claire didn't meet in the laundromat by chance. Doug had been following her for several weeks prior to the robbery. How can anybody have missed the fact that Doug was on the lam from the law, which is why he skipped town for Florida without Claire, and the fact that Doug had tailed her for several weeks before he and his men moved in to strike, and rob her bank at gunpoint while wearing masks?

  6. mplo, thanks for stopping by with your own take on The Town. I gather it didn't do a lot for you, which is fair enough. I think with regards to Doug's motivation in the film, I think his feelings for Claire in the end were real, because instead of just her being another pawn in his plan, she actually came to mean something to him – and I guess the film didn't quite get that over the line for you. I also think there's a fine line between "movie realism" and "realism", in the fact that while a film can be seen to be realistic to a viewer, it is still bound by cinema conventions for the story to work – and as far as a story goes, I think Affleck did a great job with it.

    • Hi, Rodney. You're welcome. Thanks for understanding where my point of view about "The Town" is coming from.
      "The Town" , as a film, on the whole, really didn't do much for me at all, though I thought it started out well enough, with the aerial/on the ground shots of Boston and its Charlestown section, and the opening bank heist, but after that, "The Town" went from being okay to being just plain awful, in a matter of minutes.

      I personally think that there are a couple of things that most people miss in their viewpoints of "The Town":

      A) Doug put the romance moves on Claire to make sure that she wouldn't squeal to the Feds and blow their cover.

      B) Doug skipped town for Florida without Claire, first because he'd gotten what he really and truly wanted out of her; a promise from Claire not to squeal to the Feds. Secondly, Doug was guilty of serious crimes (i. e. armed robbery and murder (he killed Fergie and Rusty before hightailing it to Florida), and he was really on the lam from the law. Thirdly, I believe that Doug MacRay and Claire Keesey, at some level, realized that there was no way they could remain together. Sooner or later, the FBI would find Doug, no matter where he was, Doug would end up either in jail (where he belonged), or possibly gunned down by the law, and that having Claire around would really put her safety and possibly her life at risk. The closing phrase in Doug's "I'll always love you" letter to Claire "''ll see you again, this side or the other", means that they never will meet again…not on "this side", anyway.

      I have to admit that I never bought into the idea that Doug really cared about Claire, because if he'd had any common sense or decency, he wouldn't have gotten into this exploitive relationship with her to begin with. No guy worth his salt, imho, would lie his way into a woman's heart and pretend that he was an upstanding, law-abiding, decent citizen, when, in fact, he wasn't, and manipulate and victimize her the way Doug did Claire. Sorry, Rodney, but that's my take on this film, and I really think that Ben Affleck's an overrated actor, and "The Town" is an overrated film.

  7. I have a hard time believing that "The Town" really and truly represents the so-called "real" folk from Charlestown. It sends a bad message and conveys some of the worst stereotypes around.

      • The problem is, Rodney, that there's a tendency among an awful lot of people to apply that kind of stereotype to everybody and to believe that the people from Charlestown who really were into robbing banks/armored cars, or were at least involved in the family business, were in the majority, when, in fact, they weren't. My opinion is that "The Town" promotes the notion that everybody in the Town was involved in stuff like this, when that wasn't the truth.

        Secondly, the de-facto leader of the posse of masked, gun-toting bandits with the heart of gold (Doug MacRay), the over-the-top right-hand man (Jem Coughlin), the slatternly, sluttish, trampy, drugged out, drunken Townie girl who slept around with too many men (Jem Coughlin's sister, Krista), and the angelic damsel of a bank manager in distress who seemed to have little or no perception of what was really going on, who steals the heart of the local leading thug (Claire Keesey), as well as the Boston-born, rabid, slobbering Red Sox Fans, and the law enforcement people who were incompetent jerks were the most disgusting stereotypes I'd ever seen, bar none.

        • I can't speak for stereotypes specific to The Town, but to allude to them being "disgusting" here seems a little gratuitous. I'm not familiar with the Charleston area, nor am I familiar with the historical context of the film itself, but it strikes me that anyone who thinks EVERYone in Charleston behaves like the few characters focused on in this film simply because that's how Affleck chose to portray the characters, is going into this thing the wrong way. Stereotypes have always been used in cinema to varying degrees – I don't think anyone believes all Italians belong to the Mafia after watching The Godfather, or all Boston cops are on the take after watching The Departed – they're snapshots of a time, place and people specific to that time, place and those people, nothing more. The argument about stereotypes and their use in cinema is one that has always, and will always, draw discussion, and although I disagree about what you think are "disgusting" stereotpyes in The Town, I agree that to a large extent, there will always be some in almost any film you watch.

          • Granted, there's a certain amount of stereotyping in every film, but some films have more stereotyping than others. "The Town", imo, is among the latter, if one gets the drift.

            The de-facto leader thieving, murderous bank robber with a "heart of gold" (Doug MacRay, who, btw, DID kill a couple of people in the end, even after telling Claire that he'd never killed anybody, which makes him a hypocrite), who knows how to come off as a decent, law-abiding citizen, when he's anything but that, and the fair, dark-haired, pure of heart damsel of a bank manager of unattainable beauty who steals the heart of the de-facto leader of the thieves who knocked over her bank at gunpoint and kidnapped her after blindfolding her, imho, are the most sickening, most glaring stereotypes I've ever seen in a film.

            Moreover, I deeply resent the message that "The Town" conveyed to me; that anything goes as long as one can get away with it, even though it results in innocent people being seriously injured or possibly killed. I wish that The Alternate Ending would've been retained for this film. It wouldn't have made it a great or even a good film, but it would've been a little better, because it would've conveyed a different message; that crimes don't pay, and that escaping one's environment, parental upbringing and criminal lifestyle is way easier said than done.

            • Hmm, I think you'd be bucking a fair old cinematic convention if every film told the truth about crime not paying, mplo. Cinema's long history with glamorising criminals dates back to the invention of the medium, and I don't see that changing any time soon!

              • There are certain films, however, that do have a dual message, but are either very good, or at least enjoyable, to boot. Bonnie and Clyde, for example, is a movie, that, while it appears to be glamourizing crime, also sends the message that crime doesn't pay, and that actions and behaviors do have consequences.

                West Side Story is another film that sends a double-edged message; it depicts the senselessness of racial/ethnic prejudice and gang violence and what it ultimately leads to, and yet, if the very ending of the film, after Tony is shot is any indication, West Side Story also sends the message that reconciliation between people, as difficult as it can be, is still possible, and that people are accountable for their behavior and actions.

                Having said all of the above, here's another message that I feel that The Town sends, which is one reason I'm turned off by it; that people don't have to be held accountable for their actions and behaviors, and that anything goes, no matter who gets hurt or severely harmed as a consequence of such actions/behaviors/

                  • Claire, as it turned out, was willfully ignorant and knew exactly what she was doing when she pretended to work with the cops and the Feds, when the Feds were at her Charlestown Condominium, but in fact, had learned from Doug MacRay how to circumscribe and subvert the law. This Claire did by playing along with FBI Agt. Frawley and the Feds, making like she was helping them catch Doug and then giving Doug the "Sunny Days" tip-off right when they were on the verge of nabbing/arresting him. Claire affectively help enable Doug MacRay (a career criminal with a record a mile or so long; he'd committed armed robberies on armored trucks and banks, aggravated assault, and murder on top of all that. Doug gunned down Fergie and Rusty the florists even after telling Claire that he'd never killed anybody, which rendered the timeline moot, as far as I'm concerned.

                    Claire's (most likely corrupt) attorney helped her get away with her irresponsible, willfully ignorant behavior. Claire, imho, should've either been criminally prosecuted herself, or at least put on some sort of probation for being an accessory to Doug MacRay's crimes, enabling a career criminal who'd committed a string of violent crimes to become a fugitive from justice before the law, and for receiving stolen goods (Doug's bloody loot money.).

                    Claire, imho, could've/should've turned Doug's stolen money (along with the tangerine, which indicates where Doug's going, and Doug's 'farewell, I'll always love you" note.) over to the proper authorities, and then found more honest ways of procuring the funding for the renovation of the Charlestown ice hockey rink.

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Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman. As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney's love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.

Movie Review – Town, The

by Rodney Twelftree
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