Review – The Town

Originally Posted at Aint it Cool News 09/14/10

IMAGINARY CONVERSATION BETWEEN BEN AFFLECK AND HIS WIFE IN THE KITCHEN OF THEIR LOVELY HOME.

Ben: You see that trailer?

Jen: Yes, dear.

Ben: You saw that shit?

Jen: They put it in front of Inception, Ben. A lot of people saw that trailer.

Ben: So they’ll let me make the movie, they’ll let me star in the movie, but they can’t let anyone know I directed the movie, because then it’s a joke, right? The trailer literally has the words ‘From the acclaimed director of Gone Baby Gone’ come up on screen…and then nothing. It’s an unfinished sentence. Who’s the acclaimed director of Gone Baby Gone? I am. Ben Fucking Affleck.

Jen: Ben. Fucking. Affleck.

Ben: But not according to the trailer. According to the trailer, some nameless ghost farted that picture into existence. Fucking NOT ME from the Family Circus ran over a dotted line through a couple mulberry bushes and kicked over a dog dish on his way to my camera to shoot my critically acclaimed movie.

Jen: Shameful. It’s shameful how they treat you.

Ben: What do I have to do, huh? I gotta channel Michael Mann? Fine. I’ll channel Michael Mann. I’ll remake Heat for Warner Bros, and I’ll do it without cheating and putting the goddamned Batman into my remake like that bastard Nolan did. I’ll get Don Draper, and that pug-nosed kid from the bomb movie that won all the Oscars last year, and I’ll get back into Daredevil shape, and we’ll wear nuns habits and shoot a ton of guns and crash a shitload of cars and the world will know That BEN FUCKING AFFLECK directed a goddamn great crime movie. Put that shit in the trailer. 80 point font. Helvetica. Bold.

Jen: Ben Fucking Affleck.

Ben: You’re goddamn right.

THE TOWN, or GODDAMMIT I’M BEN AFFLECK AND YOU WILL TAKE ME SERIOUSLY AS A FILMMAKER.

For myriad, mostly superficial reasons, people have a hard time taking Ben Affleck seriously. He’s got an Oscar for Best Screenplay, but everyone either assumes a) William Goldman did it for him or b) He smoked weed on the couch while Matt Damon wrote everything. He directed Gone Baby Gone, a filthy little powderkeg of a movie, and yet people still paint him as a lunkheaded prettyboy who needs his hand held. More people believed there was good in Anakin Skywalker than believe in Ben Affleck.

People need to come off that old bullshit.

That’s not to say The Town is everything Ben was angrily proclaiming in my imaginary kitchen rant. It’s not Heat, and he’s not Michael Mann. But he fits into John Frankenheimer’s clothes pretty well. I mean, if Frankenheimer was directing Point Break. That sounds like I’m knocking The Town, but Frankenheimer was a solid director, Point Break was a solid actioner, and The Town sports a solid cast working at a deliberate pace.

And I’m not using “deliberate” as shitty movie-critic code for “slow.” Lotta people say “deliberate” when they’re looking for a flowery way to say “I checked my watch a couple times.” I mean deliberate in that Affleck knows just how long to let his camera linger, how long to let a scene breathe, and whether they should be slow, calming breaths or ragged, hitching gasps. It’s easy to blow shit up and scream, and there’s plenty of mayhem to go around in the film. It’s the confidence in the quiet moments where characters become people, and The Town is a confidently directed follow-up to Gone Baby Gone.

Like its predecessor, The Town deals with the seedier side of Boston; Affleck plays Doug McRay, a once-promising hockey player who had his dream shattered in college, and returned back to Charlestown, a mile-long strip of Boston that does nothing but breed townie thugs and their drug-addicted baby mamas. He chose to follow in his jailed father’s (Chris Cooper) crooked footsteps, and is now the point man for a team of bank-robbers, including childhood friend Jem (Jeremy Renner.) They’re working for Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite,) a low-level crime boss who runs his operation out of a dingy flower shop.

In the film’s opening robbery, Doug and Jem take bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage as insurance against any possible police interference. When the cops don’t give chase, they dump her off at the beach after taking her ID. Unfortunately for them, it turns out she lives 4 blocks away from their apartment complex. On any given day she could spot them doing something as simple as walking to the store to get some Cheerios and they’re all going to prison. Jem, the team’s resident psychopath, wants her “Taken care of.”

Doug chooses to take care of it by dating Claire, seeing in her a chance to leave behind a shitty life he’s long since outgrown. But Jem won’t let him leave, claiming Doug has yet to pay off his debts to his liking.  Fergie won’t let him go because he has banks and armored cars he wants robbed and Doug’s the only person he wants doing it. And a highly determined FBI Agent named Frawley (Jon Hamm) is pulling the noose tighter and tighter around Doug’s neck with his investigation into his crew, and Claire too.

This is a film about choking to death on dreams deferred. And like Gone Baby Gone, the film features no shortage of short, sharp rabbit punches to the kidneys, along with one particularly wince-inducing low-blow. There is pain to be felt in The Town, and not just the physical and visceral kind found in the finely choreographed robbery sequences. In Charlestown, people are a nothing more than a commodity, just another thing to be used up. Most of the film’s tension comes from quiet, increasingly desperate attempts to maneuver out of this mile-long strip of hell without succumbing to its ways.

But where Gone Baby Gone felt like a vicious fight that ended with a headbutt DQ, The Town goes the distance and ends in a lazy clinch. Affleck earns a lot of the emotion in the film honestly, with good turns from Hamm and Hall, and a great performance from Renner, full of dead-eyed, wiry rage.  He does not earn the gauzy, candy-coated ending he gives himself. I’m unfamiliar with the story Affleck adapted along with co-writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, so maybe the ending is faithful, but it feels hollow. If anything, up until the last 5 minutes, the film seems to be reinforcing Jem’s outlook on the situation: Doug thinks he’s better than everyone in Charlestown, but he’s not, and he can’t leave because he doesn’t deserve to. The debt is too steep, and in the end, everyone but Doug seems to be paying their share.

But even if the ending is a cheat, I’m willing to cede Affleck the self-congratulatory back-patting that closes his film like a sunny day melting the icy integrity of the 90 preceding minutes. It’s not as potent as his debut, but the surety he directs with should erase lingering skepticism from those paying attention. The Town may not have earned its happy ending, but Affleck has, at the least, earned the right to have his name mentioned as a director of note without an ironic giggle punctuating the statement.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:31 am  Comments Off on Review – The Town  
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