Sunday, October 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Town

Bank heist movies are a dime a dozen. But the Ben Affleck-directed The Town stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of them in some important ways.
The Town opens with a number of quotes informing us that Charlestown, a blue-collar neighbourhood in Boston, is a place where crime is a part of everyday life. In fact, it is America’s capital for all sorts of nasty activity including bank robbery. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) has grown up in this neighbourhood where a life of crime is passed down from father to son. Doug is the brains behind a group of ruthless gang members who are planning a bank robbery. Doug is desperate to leave Charlestown and make a new life for himself. But his friends expect that never to happen — certainly not until they have made all the money they need.
During the action-packed heist, Doug forces the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), to open the safe. Because the robbers are all in masks, they are not able to be identified. When the robbers leave the bank, they take Claire as a hostage, covering her head with a bag. Once clear of the bank, they drop her off, head still covered, at a beach, telling her to keep walking until her toes hit the water. She is terrified and traumatised.
But then the gang discover she lives near them in the same neighbourhood. Has she seen too much? Might she recognise them somehow? What is she saying to the tenacious FBI agent who is investigating the crime. One of the gang would rather kill her than take any risks. But Doug wants to proceed with caution. So he tails her to see if he can determine whether she represents any danger to them. Then he goes further and makes actual contact.
And, of course, Doug becomes attracted to Claire and begins to establish a relationship with her. And so begins a tense romance with Doug living in two worlds and the inevitable stress that results. I shall tell you no more … the rest of the movie is premised on this relationship and is set alongside the attempts of the FBI agent to bring the robbery gang down.
The heist narrative of The Town is not really new. If that were all there was to this movie, it wouldn’t be much of a movie at all. What makes it special is that it is character and place driven. The quotes referred to above that appear at the start of the movie, drive home the fact that this story is as much about Charlestown as it about anything. And then there are the characters. Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) all put in excellent performances and the relationships between them all provide the backbone of the movie. These relationships are sensitively and subtly drawn and we come to care deeply about them, particularly the two leads.
This is the second major film that Ben Affleck has directed. His previous one, Gone Baby Gone was excellent. But in The Town Affleck shows us how much real potential he has, building on the stunning co-writing he did for Good Will Hunting so many years ago. The action sequences are excellent, the dramatic tension palpable, and the cast give us believable characters that are flawed in very human ways. It’s a great movie.
Positive Review
‘A rich, dark, pulpy mess of entanglements that fulfills all the requirements of the genre, and is told with an ease and gusto that make the pulp tasty.’ – Lisa Schwarzbaum/Entertainment Weekly
Negative Review
‘Given the debased standards of action cinema these days this might be enough to make The Town a hit. But almost everything else about the movie is badly off balance, starting with Affleck's decision to cast himself as the implacably sexy and good-hearted Doug.’ – Andrew O’Hehir/

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