Friday, September 17, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck's second directorial feature is a solid piece of work. It probably won't change anyone's life, and it's certainly not as good as some of its Boston-set contemporaries, but The Town further establishes Affleck's credibility both behind and in front of the camera. Comparisons to Clint Eastwood will surely pop up across the web (indeed, they already have), and - as much as I love Eastwood - I actually don't think those comparisons are unwarranted.

The Town
Co-Writer/Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively

Following 2007's Gone Baby Gone, Affleck returns to the city in which he grew up to tell this story, adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves." He plays Doug MacRay, a thief who orchestrates the robberies. One thing he didn't count on was meeting Claire Keesey (Hall), the manager at the latest bank he and his boys rob. After they take Claire hostage and eventually release her, Doug checks in to see if Claire can identify them, falling for her in the process. MacRay's number two guy is James "Jem" Coughlin (Renner), a thug with a thirst for violence and a rampant criminal history. FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) is tracking their every move, waiting for one mistake so he can take these guys down.

The movie doesn't break new ground in any aspect; we've seen this all before. But like the 2008 police thriller Pride and Glory with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton, sometimes it doesn't matter if you've seen the elements before - the fun comes with watching these specific actors pull it off. And pull it off they do - Affleck himself does some good work as the conflicted robber with a conscience, and Renner stands out as the wild-eyed ex-con who will do whatever it takes to avoid returning to prison. (His intensity recalled Ben Foster's character in 2007's 3:10 to Yuma.) Jon Hamm eschews his Don Draper persona in favor of a foul-mouthed agent (sorry bro, Wahlberg did it better in '06), and Hall was excellent in more of a leading role than she's used to playing. I didn't quite understand the reason for all of the buzz behind Blake Lively's performance as a drug-addled hooker; she was passable, but this was far from a star-building turn for the young actress.

Multiple bank robberies and car chases are definite highlights of the film, showing flashes of Grand Theft Auto and The Dark Knight. Affleck infuses these scenes with a sense of kinetic immediacy that allows us to feel the repercussions of each shot fired, channeling Michael Mann from both Heat and Public Enemies. There are also shades of Kathrine Bigelow's Point Break, with the gang donning various masks and costumes to pull their bank jobs.

It's hard to write extensively about this film since it doesn't really contribute anything new or especially interesting to the genre. But don't hold that against it - The Town is entertaining, exciting, filled with solid performances, funny at some points, and charming at others. In an age where "marketing" has become a dirty word and is seemingly used more often than not to trick audiences into seeing a movie, this film steps up and delivers exactly what you'd expect after seeing its trailer - and that's not a bad thing at all. Until next time...

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