Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Town - Theatrical Review

Release Date: September 17, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block
Time: 6 pm - Monday September 20th
Screen Type: Digital

Loves: Crime/Heist movies, well staged shoot outs
Likes: Jeremy Renner, Ben Affleck (the Director)
Neutral:  Ben Affleck (the Actor)
Hates: Pointless subplots

Charlestown, Boston MA
"The bank robbery capital of America"

That is a pretty hefty claim that has a lot of people speculating whether or not it is actually true. In my opinion the film doesn't really do a whole lot to back that statement up but luckily for it we could really care less after that first perfectly executed bank robbery scene. This is Ben Affleck's second time behind the camera with his first effort being the very excellent Gone Baby Gone from 2007. However this is his first time wearing both the director and actor caps at the same time. So, how did his sophomore effort turn out? Read on to find out...

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) runs one of the most professional and hard hitting teams in Charlestown. He stakes out each location well in advance to know when and how it would be best to hit the place. He has robbed 6 armor cars and 2 banks and he didn't get to this point by not being careful. His crew is composed of three other guys, Desmond (Owen Burke) the technician, Albert (Slaine) the muscle and driver and finally James Coughlin (up and coming star Jeremy Renner) the enforcer and old friend of Dougs that is fresh out of jail. The opening scene of the film shows us just how professional they are and also just how reckless and out of control that James can be when he decides to take a hostage.

Claire unknowingly having a talk with the man that took her hostage.
Their hostage is Claire (Rebecca Hall), the assistant Manager of the bank and the woman that will eventually have her life even more complicated. They let her go almost immediately after leaving the bank by dropping her off at the lake shore and telling her to walk blind folded until she feels the water at her feet which she describes as one of the longest walks she has ever taken. She is soon talking with FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) whom suspects her of being a part of the robbery but doesn't have any shred of proof. Not too long after the FBI lets her go does she meet a mysterious man at her local Laundromat who just so happens to be Doug, the man that robbed her bank and took her hostage, but she doesn't know that of course.

Doug has taken it upon himself to check in on her and make sure she isn't a threat to him or his crew, however he finds himself becoming attracted to Claire which starts him thinking about leaving the crime life behind and starting his life over again. This idea is of course complicated by not only his loose cannon friend and fellow criminal James, but also by Jame's sister Krista (Blake Lively) whom Doug has a thing with, his team's handler and crime overlord Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), and finally by FBI agent Frawley who personally wants him put away for the rest of his life. The rest of the film deals with Doug trying to escape to a new life with Claire as he tries to find any possible way out of his current life of crime.

Doug and his crew learn about their next job.

Ben Affleck's second time in the directors chair proves that this man has finally found his calling. The way he is able to capture the city and its lifestyle is impeccable. Similar to Gone Baby Gone you get a real sense of place and how all these people live from day to day in Charlestown. The FBI side of things is shown more as a procedural and is nothing you haven't seen a million times over from other TV shows and movies but is still compelling mainly due to Jon Hamm's persistent FBI agent. But it wasn't the criminal side of the movie that won me over and got me hooked, surprisingly in the end it was the relationship that develops between Doug and Claire over the course of the film.

From what was shown in the film's trailer it looked as though it was going to take a back seat to all the crime action and drama but thankfully that isn't the case. In their first encounter after the robbery Claire is taken by Doug's charm relatively quick but it is somewhat believable given her circumstances and how vulnerable she feels after her ordeal. Their interactions and conversations were a true highlight for me and really help give extra weight to the increasing pressure that Doug is put under. When Doug confesses to Claire about what happened to his mother when he was younger it was both heartbreaking and endearing. Each scene these two had together I wanted to last longer than it did and I think that is a true testament to the power of the writing, directing and the two actors involved.

These aren't nuns and it ain't Halloween, but all hell is about to break loose.

That being said the shoot outs and car chases are nothing to sneeze at either. Affleck has already proven himself to be a more than competent director of a drama but I was a little weary when it came time for the action to heat up, and heat up it did. The initial robbery scene was more of a set up to get the viewer in line with what kind of world we are dealing with and thus had very little action to it. When that next heist gets in gear however (with the nun outfits seen all over the advertising for the film) the film lays all its cards out and it is time to let the action hit full throttle. That scene and the job they pull at the end of the film hit fast and hit hard and will satisfy any action nut looking for some thrills.

I want to take a second and talk about Jeremy Renner who as mentioned earlier plays James, the guy you get if you wanna hurt someone and have no questions asked. This guy is on a roll with The Hurt Locker taking the Best Picture award this year, getting cast in one of the biggest comic book movies of all time, and becoming the new lead in the next Mission Impossible movie. To say this man's better days are still ahead of him would be an understatement. And with his portrayal of a guy that just spent 9 years in prison and just wants to get back into the game I believe he is most definitely headed for stardom. He plays James with a sympathetic tone even though he seems a little crazy and I was happy to see him not take that character to the conclusion I was expecting.

FBI agent Frawley lets Doug know he means business.
Problems with the film...? To be honest I don't have many but there were some things that annoyed me enough to bring up. The first and most bothersome aspect was the entire subplot involving the Krista character, Jame's sister (which I didn't even realize until well near the end) and Doug. Her character adds nothing to the story other than giving Doug some extra problems to deal with. I would have gladly traded all of the scenes with her for a few more with Claire instead.

Now this gripe really isn't fair but I feel the comparison must be made. This film is very very reminiscent of the 1995 Michael Mann crime epic Heat. It shares many of the same story beats as that film and unfortunately for The Town it does not really compare despite being a superb film in its own right. I will avoid giving direct comparisons since getting that much into detail would be entering major spoilers for both films. I will say though that one of the strengths of Heat was that the crew Robert De Niro ran seemed to be more fleshed out than the crew Ben Affleck runs here. Other than Jeremy Renner's character everyone else just seemed to be there to fill an open spot.

Those admittedly very minor issues aside there really isn't very much wrong here but there is a whole lot of good. This year has been pretty thin on good dramas or thrillers and I believe this one scratches that itch perfectly. I wouldn't put it above Gone Baby Gone but this is a well crafted film from Mr. Affleck. And if you have any reservations about seeing this because Ben Affleck is in it I completely understand that. But go see it regardless, I promise you will not be disappointed. The action scenes are thrilling, the relationship is compelling and the actors are all pitch perfect (even the Aflleck). Ben Affleck has transformed himself into one hell of a director and I can't believe I am saying this but I can't wait for his next movie.



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