Town, The (United States, 2010)September 15, 2010
In some ways, The Town can be considered a throwback, at least insomuch as any movie reflecting the approach of '80s and '90s cop dramas can be tagged with such a label. With a crisp, clear style and a focus on character, director Ben Affleck is able to imbue staple action scenes with a sense of urgency and tension. Take, for example, what could be a routine car chase. Because of the way it's shot, the viewer finds himself unexpectedly caught up in the excitement. On paper, the scene might be generic; on screen, it's more than that. The same can be said about many elements of The Town. The pieces and parts assembled herein are familiar, but the manner in which Affleck puts them together results in an engrossing two hours of cinema. Few will depart from a showing of The Town overwhelmed, but neither will they be dissatisfied by the experience.
The movie, like Affleck's previous directorial outing, Gone Baby Gone, takes place in Boston - in the Charlestown section, to be precise. This time, however, Affleck is directing himself rather than his brother. His double duty (triple, actually, since he is credited as a co-writer, adapting from Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan) hasn't impacted the skill with which the production has been assembled. During his years in front of the camera, Affleck has studied those helming his various productions, and those lessons have paid dividends.
From an opening caption, we learn that Charlestown is a place where bank robbery is passed from generation to generation like any trade. Indeed, the main character, Doug MacRay (Affleck), is from such a family. His father, Stephen (Chris Cooper), is serving multiple life sentences for murders associated with a robbery gone bad. Stephen's three best friends - James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) - are members of his crew. Doug is the brains of the operation and Coughlin, who served nine years in prison for murder, is a loose cannon, capable of turning violent and unpredictable at any moment. That's what happens during their latest job, when he brutally beats a man he suspects of having triggered the silent alarm and takes the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. She is subsequently released and never sees their unmasked faces but, when Doug tracks her down later to ascertain whether she has knowledge that could help the cops identify him, he finds himself attracted to her.
Meanwhile, the FBI is on the job. Led by a driven, hard-nosed special agent named Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), they are determined to put an end to the crime spree. They suspect the identities of the four responsible individuals but don't have enough proof to make arrests, let alone get convictions. So Frawley must engage in some old-fashioned detective work, do some surveillance, and resort to a little bullying. What he's really waiting for, however, is another robbery - one where he can be a step ahead of Doug's gang and catch them in the act.
The Town's drama and energy comes from two sources: the friction among the criminals and the romance between Doug and Claire. The uncertainty surrounding his future in Charlestown, especially with the FBI closing in, convinces Doug that his best option is to leave Boston. That doesn't sit well with Coughlin, who views such a defection as a betrayal; Doug's trashy, drug and alcohol-addicted ex-lover Krista (Blake Lively), who has delusions about reuniting with him; or a local "boss", Fergie (Pete Postelthwaite), who relies on Doug to run his operations. So, like Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, the more he tries to get out, the more they pull him back in. Eventually, both the FBI and Fergie use Doug's attachment to Claire for their own ends.
Compared to other, recent crime dramas, this one stands higher not only because of the quality of the performances but because of the nuances evident in the characters. Gone are the days when all criminals wear black hats and all cops are robed in white. Now, it's gray all over, and there are times when the tactics of the "good guys" are less honorable than those of the men they're chasing. The Town has several high-octane action sequences that are suspenseful and easy to follow (no rapid cutting, no moving camera). The film captures the look and feel of Charlestown. It has become a cliché, but this is one of those productions in which the setting is established and presented with such care that it's almost a character in its own right. Those with an affinity for crime dramas, action movies where everything doesn't have to move at the speed of sound, and thrillers where character development doesn't represent an unwarranted intrusion will appreciate what The Town has to offer. It's not as involving as Gone Baby Gone, but that's more a comment about the differences in the source materials than about anything having to do with the filmmaking. The Town is a solid way to start the autumn movie-going season.
Town, The (United States, 2010)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Music: David Buckley, Harry Gregson-Williams