Sunday, September 19, 2010

A movie review: The Town (2010)

The Town (2010)

Director - Ben Affleck
125 min; R

Ben Affleck - Doug MacRay
Rebecca Hall - Claire
Jeremy Renner - James/Jem
Blake Lively - Krista
Chris Cooper - Stephen MacRay
Jon Hamm - FBI Agent Frawley
Pete Postlethwaite - The Florist

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer or, perhaps, keep your female bank teller hostage even closer after releasing her. That would be my mock tag line for the Ben Affleck directed The Town which runs for 125 minutes and tells the story of a local bank robbery gang in the Boston suburb of Charlestown, revealed at the opening to be the bank robbery capital. Filmed in a style I very much appreciate - overhead city views and point of view chase scenes to name a few - Ben Affleck has followed up his Gone Baby Gone direction leaving little doubt for his talents behind the camera. He has a clear command of the shot sequences and though I prefer the work of Gone to the Town in general, they each work in style. I wish I could give as much praise for his acting.

Affleck is Doug MacRay, a born and bred Charlestown boy who grew up with a pedigree of bank robbers and surroundings of people up to no good. He never had a chance is what we are led to believe. Some 30 years later or so Doug wants out. No more bank jobs. No more Charlestown. He wants to start over in life but there are a few, well more than just a few, issues holding him back. His incarcerated father Stephen (Chris Cooper) is serving life sentences nearby and his connections to the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite) run deep. The Florist is the mastermind of the bank jobs orchestrating everything from the friendly confines of a storefront window. Doug now works for him. His mother left them when Doug was just six. The brief scene with Cooper and Affleck is one of the best in the film and really shows just how a great actor can turn nominal material into something very powerful. Then there is James, or Jem as he is often called ("Aren't you just a gem?" he would hear as a child, mockingly), played by Jeremy Renner in a strong performance. Having done a stretch of 9 years in prison related to an incident with Doug he feels owed more bank jobs and Doug talking about leaving just isn't going to cut it. They are a team from the same neighborhood.

After Doug (Affleck) and his unit take down a bank score they bring along Claire (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage, only to release her shortly after. Jem worries that she is the only one who can identify them, since they concealed their faces and bodies well with scary masks, and Doug agrees to check her out since they know she lives nearby. In a surreal turn of events Doug and Claire begin a relationship. Is Doug just trying to cover himself or is he really trying to change his life? That is the main question of the film and it is the one thing Affleck is pretty bad at conveying. The ongoing relationship theme mixed with the bank heists and shots of town life do not always gel together in a cohesive fashion. Ultimately it is clear that Affleck cannot hold screen presence in this film against the rest of the cast. Though her role is limited in range, Hall is pretty good as a bank teller who moved into the town and is finding her way in life. Renner as Jem is a strong force on the screen and Blake Lively as the junkie townie Krista also gives a great performance. We are left with Affleck trying to carry this film on his shoulders and unable to do so, perhaps a little due to his acting and a little due to some plot issues, but together they have problems.

After seemingly opening up to each other as if they were life long soul mates after just a brief period of time, Claire tells Doug of her emotional trauma over being taken hostage a few days ago, how she felt, how terrified. Doug looks deadpan at her and musters "I'm sorry" with a puppy dog look. I almost laughed. It isn't long before the two of them are discussing dead siblings and deadbeat parents like they are discussing which restaurant to have their first date. Doug just doesn't seem to have any good scenes with women in this film. Every time he has dialogue with a female it comes across like a Lifetime movie.

I enjoyed the realistic style of the bank jobs in this film, the brutal force and scare tactics which seem to feel real. This isn't a caper movie with elaborate schemes - this is a group of guys knocking off banks and bank cars and taking the money in broad daylight and running. The chase scenes which were inevitable are ok and I loved the point of view style that switched throughout, but perhaps I am being a bit petty that is bothered me so much that they were able to hold an 80 mph chase scene through the streets of Charlestown and surrounding Boston and almost never see or run into another vehicle. Those familiar with this area as I am will surely laugh out loud at the absurdity of being able to maneuver a vehicle like that. Perhaps it was a Holiday and a Red Sox game was going on and there was mandatory street cleaning closings which caused the normally heavily congested streets to part like the red sea? But I digress.

My main complaint with the film is not the love story that falls short in scope and genuine feel (it does) but more so with the lack of time comprehension. At no point could I really tell whether one job was a day ago or a month ago, or if the Claire and Doug motif was progressing at a snails pace or taking place over the course of many months. It really was distracting to me to not know. I also disliked a lot the use of attempted comic relief throughout the film. Every 15-20 minutes there was a forced line of dialogue with an attempted wittiness that made about 1/4 of the audience let out a laugh. After shooting an armed guard amidst a very chaotic and tense robbery scene one of the masked robbers steps over the fallen man and says "You should have stayed in the van" and then runs off. Why is that needed? Would that EVER happen? It is all totally unnecessary to the film and its style. See the recently released Animal Kingdom for how to film a full length film about this material without the use of cheap tactics.

I definitely never felt the relationship between Claire and Doug was strong enough to warrant the all out ending that revolves around them. It simply never made it that far to be believable. The ball was also dropped with Jem's character and his strong dislike of Doug's continuing attachment with Claire. He makes some pretty strong remarks about what he would like to have happen to her but then it all sort of goes away. He is too tough and too stubborn to not follow through with some sort of action. There is an long scene that takes place at Fenway Park which just feels very forced, almost as if Affleck felt he would be vilified if he did not have something happen outside of Charlestown. It felt gimmicky to me in an otherwise pretty well done film. About 300,000 bullets fly and you can count on one hand the number of people hit by them. Again, I am nit-picking some items and mainly feel Affleck should have stuck to directing someone stronger in the role of Doug, because the film as a whole was enjoyable if you are willing to put aside plot holes and the entire premise of Doug and Claire's relationship. Is it a robber movie? Is it a love story? Is it a redemption story? I don't think it is all and I don't think it is one. Whether Doug finds what he is longing for and whether we as an audience even care about it if he does is up to you to decide.

*** and 1/2 out of 5


Anonymous said...
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Matt said...

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I just don't think this movie was anything special at all, but it definitely kept decent pace and compared to this year's film crop in general it has to be given a passing grade. In other years I don't think it would have received such glowing reviews.