Theatrical Review: THE TOWN

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
September 16th, 2010

Rating: 3.5/5

Writers: Peter Craig & Ben Affleck, and Aaron Stockard (screenplay), Chuck Hogan (novel)
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Ben Affleck has a funny way of showing his love for his hometown. In Affleck’s THE TOWN, we get to know many of the same types of Bostonites that populated his previous effort, his feature debut, GONE BABY GONE. Drug addicts, drug dealers, common criminals, gangs, and even some good folks just trying to get by – they’re all back in Affleck’s Boston. But while GONE BABY GONE focused on the good guys trying to root out the bad, THE TOWN sticks us right in with the bad. Maybe the devil will sort them out. Maybe even the devil doesn’t care about Charlestown, Boston.

Like GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN is based off a novel – this time around, Affleck has mined the work of Chuck Hogan, from his novel, Prince of Thieves. While this is the first of Hogan’s works to be adapted for the big screen (whereas the source material of GONE came from Dennis Lehane, whose books get more cinematic by the moment: see MYSTIC RIVER and SHUTTER ISLAND), the author is currently co-writing a series of vampire novels with Guillermo del Toro. That’s a short way of saying it’s good, solid cinematic source material and Affleck and his writers (including Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard) have done a fine job adapting it.

Affleck stars in his own work this time around, as bank robber Doug MacRay. For Doug and his gang (including Jeremy Renner as his best friend, Jem, recently out of jail for a crime he committed in Doug’s name), bank robbing is a career, a family business, and these guys know exactly what they’re doing. THE TOWN opens straight away to the crew’s latest job – a perfectly executed piece, meticulously planned and carried out, a work of art. Well, “meticulously planned” if that plan included Jem busting on the bank’s assistant manager and kidnapping the bank’s manager, Rebecca Hall. I guess that same plan would include letting Hall’s Claire Keesey go, only to have Doug follow her for a bit, engage with her, and then fall for her. Did that plan include Jon Hamm as an F.B.I. agent, who is determined to bring the crew down? Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the best plan. But it’s something to watch it all fall apart.

Affleck displays a real knack for shooting action in THE TOWN – particularly when it comes to some good, old-fashioned car chases. It’s messy, tense stuff – there’s a real, growing suspense that runs through THE TOWN. The film could benefit from a bit of tightening to some bouts of exposition and timing within it, but it generally clips along well, with only a few misfires along the way. And, for every misfire of the spoken variety, the film dishes out enough gunfire and violence to keep us firmly on our toes.

But for a crime flick, much of THE TOWN rests on the strength of its performances, and there are many to name here. Blake Lively may have looked like the one sore thumb in an all-star cast, but her performance as Jem’s little sister (and Doug’s former lover) Krista takes on a life of its own here. Lively was certainly not afraid to get dirty – be it in terms of her clothes, her makeup, or her emotions – and though Krista often seems to be thrown in for the sake of moving along parts of the plot, once she really gets going, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what Lively is bringing to the table As F.B.I. Special Agent Adam Frawley, Jon Hamm certainly likes to think he’s a match for MacRay – at least when it comes to wits. Frawley’s no wordsmith, but he delivers his threats and information with a level of mental brawn that makes you wonder just how much he stirs up Doug.

When it comes to Affleck himself, the now-multi-hyphenate and his work have grown steadily over time, and after skirting around it, he is finally, dare I say it, a bonafide leading man. Doug MacRay is not a good guy, but Affleck brings real vulnerability to him, enough to make an audience not only want to watch him, but watch him succeed.

While Affleck succeeds in (at least temporarily) tricking his audience into feeling for Doug, and Hall more than adequately makes Claire believable and somewhat intriguing, the real performance in THE TOWN comes from Jeremy Renner. Renner has played different parts of Jem before - the craziness, the willfulness, the pride – but he’s never before brought them into one role. One role that is, admittedly, terrifying. Jem is a sociopath of the highest order, and he is the one to be most feared because he simply has nothing left to lose. It’s a frightening, gritty performance.

THE TOWN delivers just as it should – it's a solid crime thriller about Boston, about its people, about misdirected “Irish omertà” and the price of it. It’s not new-school Robin Hood - there are no princes here, just thieves. While Affleck’s take on bank robbers running wild and going straight doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of his first film, it’s certainly a worthy follow-up. Both of Affleck’s features have focused on the darker side of life in Boston, and though I like seeing anyone stretch their creative wings, I wouldn’t mind if Affleck hung out in his old ‘hood forever, churning out more and more Beantown bangers. If they’re at all like THE TOWN, we’ve got some good crime cinema ahead of us.


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