September 19, 2010

The Town

A terrific heist thriller. Ben Affleck now has to be taken seriously as a director. Gone Baby Gone was no fluke; The Town is more of a genre action thriller, and less of a film noir than GBG was, but he's made a cracking bundle of excitement, soaked in Bostoniana.
Affleck is Doug MacRay, the brains behind a bank-robbing crew. During a daylight heist in Harvard Square, they take a tall dark drink of water, Claire, as a hostage (Rebecca Hall). They let Claire go during their getaway, but it turns out she lives in Charlestown too-  does she know too much? Will she talk to the Feds? MacRay, hungry to escape suffocating Charlestown, latches onto Claire as his one chance at going legit. Meanwhile, Doug's lifelong friend/ex - con/loose cannon/sociopath Jem (the excellent Jeremy Renner) won't let Doug walk away, while continuing to endanger Doug's life.
MacRay's crew is tracked by Jon Hamm's FBI Special Agent Frawley, who's not above bending some rules to make his case. Hamm brings an edge of anger to his all-American face, which only boils over when he's beating suspects and taunting criminals to get what he wants.
Speaking as a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth, The Town is the most "Boston" movie I have ever seen. I feel like I have walked past every location a hundred times. When Affleck's Charlestown crew are fleeing a heist in the North End, there's an authentic car chase around the twisty North End streets. When Jon Hamm's FBI agent catches the flash on the radio, he hollers "Close the fucking bridge!" Any Boston resident knows exactly what he's talking about. The verisimilitude felt good.
(NOTE: If you want to avoid a Boston-based movie with the least-realistic chase scene ever, Blown Away (1994) is the movie for you, featuring a 2-minute-long chase scene on Beacon Hill's Joy Street, which is, like, four blocks long!)
Then there's the dialog- Affleck doesn't care if anyone understands all the dialog, it's so mumbly and slangy, it was impossible for me to pick it all out. The nice thing about a genre movie is that you don't need to know all the words to follow along.
If I have one complaint, it's that the movie feels like it was cut down from a Heat-sized three-hour epic to a brisk two hours. This means there's lots of intriguing threads which are either never explored, or only glimpsed. I don't really need to know why Agent Frawley has a burr up his ass, or the story behind Frawley's townie partner and his roots in Charlestown.
NOTE: The townie cop is played by Titus Welliver, whom I'm adding to my Hey! It's That Guy! club. He made his debut in Navy Seals as "Redneck in Bar", played a cop in Oliver Stone's The Doors, played Al Capone in Mobsters, then proceeded to appear on every dramatic TV show of the last 20 years.
We're given hints that Doug may have fathered a child with Jimmy's sister (Blake Lively in full bar tramp mode.) Victor Garber has two lines as a bank manager, and gets a rifle butt to the face for his trouble? (NOTE: Garber co-starred with Affleck's wife Jennifer Garner on Alias) It's possible that The Town was a terrible movie when all the footage was first assembled, and a gem was carved out of it.

OK I have one more small complaint: [SPOILER ALERT] the movie might be a little too beholden to genre conventions, so when it breaks those conventions in uninteresting ways, I was confused. For example, Claire works at the bank the gang robs at the opening of the movie. They take her hostage while they make their escape; she's blindfolded, so she can't see their faces. Later, Doug befriends her, and they begin to fall in love, while she doesn't know his secret. In my opinion, the traditional resolution would be that Claire figures out for herself that Doug is one of the men who robbed her bank; but it doesn't resolve that way. I found this odd and confusing, especially when the rest of the movie followed heist thriller conventions in a regular way.

I saw The Town with my friends Amy and Adam at the Capitol Theater in Arlington; apparently English-born Adam could understand the dialog better than Amy or me! As the credits rolled, I gave it an A grade; since then, when I see commercials for the movie on TV, I rewind and watch them twice. I think this means I want to see it again!
NOTE: I saw it again, this time with my wife, September 25 at the AMC Aviation 12, Linden NJ, with Becca & Vinnie. The digital projection and sound were excellent; I was able to understand a lot more of the dialog this time.

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival