By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
Ben Affleck has returned to the director’s chair for the unimaginatively-named heist film, The Town. The script, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan, was co-written by Affleck and two others and – instead of getting his brother to play the main character – this time, Ben casts himself as the leading man, Doug MacRay. Doug is the head of a four man crew of thieves in Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston that supposedly produces more bank robbers than any other city.
The plot is overly formulaic and it contains the most clichéd hallmarks of the heist genre: there’s the “one last job and I’m out for good” as well as “the perfect score that’s too big to pass up.” Unlike most other caper films, however, they replace the planning stages of the robberies with a romantic subplot involving Claire, a girl from the bank that gets caught between the thieves and the FBI. Rebecca Hall is absolutely lovely as Claire, the innocent outsider, and it’s all too believable that MacRay would fall for her. Jeremy Renner is very good as James Coughlin, an unstable (but completely loyal) sociopath that seems hell-bent on getting everyone – including himself – caught or killed. Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite both give excellent performances considering the small amount of time that they are onscreen. Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) is the weak link here as Coughlin’s sister… in her first appearance the Boston accent is so thick she’s almost unintelligible, but in a later, more emotional scene the accent drops away for a moment. She’s nearly convincing as a girl in a mostly-inebriated state, but one wonders if the only reason she’s a part of the cast was so that Ben Affleck could make out with her. Aside from one somewhat important plot point, (that could easily have been worked out some other way,) her character doesn’t really do much else in the film.
The story starts out with a rather tense action scene and then it meanders a bit with the guys in the neighborhood. Eventually there’s another exciting scene followed by more people talking. The pacing wasn’t terrible, but the dragging between action sequences was noticeable. Also, about midway through the film, there is a scene with the FBI that creates a brief ambiguity about which party you want to succeed. (The recent heist flick, Takers, was also confusing like this in more than a few scenes, but to a much greater degree.) There’s a gun battle towards the end of The Town that strains credibility for several reasons, not the least of which is the overwhelming odds. The car chase is easily the best one I’ve seen in years, however, and Affleck captures that action (as well as the action in several other key scenes) beautifully.
Somehow, even with the conventional storyline, they manage to concoct a convincing crime thriller that doesn’t feel rehashed and there are also several clever bits of dialogue that elevate this beyond the standard fare. The final package is a recommended movie that is greater than the sum of its parts, but Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, is still the superior film (by at least a full point, maybe two.) The Town proves that Affleck didn’t just get lucky with his first movie though… he’s beaten the sophomore slump and secured his place as a filmmaker to follow. Are all of his movies going to be about crime in Boston though? I hope not. But if that's all he's got, I'll take it.