5 October 2010

Movie Review: The Town



B+

The Town
2010, 123mins, 15
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer (s): Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard
Cast includes: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, John Hamm, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite
UK Release Date: 24th September 2010



Having launched his directorial career in 2007 with the magnificent “Gone Baby Gone”, Ben Affleck has elected to make another Boston set crime drama for his sophomore effort. This time the focus has switched from child abduction to bank robbery, and unlike last time Affleck assumes the role of leading man for himself. “The Town” is definitely not as edgy or unique as “Gone Baby Gone”, but it’s a compelling and well executed motion picture none the less. Certainly it displays that Affleck’s initial success behind the camera was no fluke, and it makes grand promises concerning what he might be capable of in the future.

Set in the neighbourhood of Charlestown, “The Town” follows Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and his loyal band of bank robbers. After one of their heists goes wrong MacRay and his crew are forced to grab a temporary hostage, a bank manager called Claire (Rebecca Hall), releasing her only after their escape becomes certain. In a bid to ensure that Claire doesn’t know their true identity Doug begins to follow her, striking up a casual relationship with Claire which soon blossoms into something else. One of Doug’s team James (Jeremy Renner) is particularly appalled by this development, especially seeing as the FBI led by Agent Frawley (John Hamm) is hot on their tail. As Doug falls deeper in love with Claire he begins to realise that in order to change his life he must leave his depraved criminal roots behind him, but his associates in Charlestown aren’t so keen to see him go.

Affleck gives a strong central turn in “The Town”, and he’s ably helped by a tremendous supporting cast. Aside from the leading man’s sympathetic performance the standouts are undeniably Jeremy Renner and “Gossip Girl” herself Blake Lively. Lively in particular does super work as Doug’s ex-lover, especially given that the writing neglects her subplot for large swathes of the picture. Renner is his usual explosive self and dominates the screen at every turn, sparking nicely off Affleck’s more measured and morally sensible character. Affleck and Renner create an interesting and believable dynamic, convincing as friends but also as opposites. Rebecca Hall is surprisingly bland as the film’s love interest, the talented actress left stranded by a movie more interested in the dilemmas of its male characters than her mental anguish or romance with Affleck. Both John Hamm and Pete Postlethwaite (who is terrifically menacing as a local crime boss) are effective in their respective role, rounding out what is largely a brilliant selection of performances.

Affleck’s direction is excellent, finding a fantastic sense of place within the streets of Boston. “The Town” exudes a marvellously authentic atmosphere, the filmmaker incorporating genuine landmarks into his story whilst also capturing the seedy underbelly of the city convincingly. The action and heist sequences are artfully composed, oozing tension and directorial assurance from every frame. Affleck even stretches himself to a car chase in this feature, executing it in a lively but fully coherent fashion. “The Town” certainly scores high in all technical areas, the cinematography is attractive whilst the editing and pacing are competently carried out and skilfully judged respectively. “The Town” certainly builds a healthy sense of momentum as it approaches its Fenway Park set finale, a scene that tops the movie off rather spectacularly.

The story is interesting but certain subplots are given a much higher priority than others, and the overall structure of “The Town” is more conventional than Affleck’s previous work. The relationship between Affleck and his cronies is well handled, as are Doug’s individual struggles as a character, but his relationship with Claire feels more like a plot mechanism than an emotionally rich slice of storytelling. Similarly one intriguing facet of “The Town” is that involving Lively’s drug addled single mother, but Affleck only uses this component to bookend the feature at the plot’s convenience. The project’s narrative resolution whilst perfectly agreeable perhaps stretches believability a little too far, and certainly conforms to a rather feel good style of Hollywood filmmaking.

“The Town” is a robustly crafted crime thriller; it’s well directed and features a wealth of inspired acting. The screenplay would have befitted from one extra draft and a little extra grit come the finish, but overall enough about it works for the film to hold any viewer’s attention and make them care about the outcome. For Affleck it represents welcome proof that he’s an artist to be reckoned with, the film ultimately ranking as an enjoyable and solidly made effort from a director with hopefully great things to offer.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

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