In 1991, “Point Break” highlighted a group of surfers who doubled as bank robbers sporting masks of former presidents. Now, “The Town” features a rag-tag crew of bank robbers with an array of costumes (I think I liked the nun outfits the best). Ben Affleck’s second directorial feature is proof that some people can redeem their reputations and develop a new niche for themselves.
Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) were born into a life of crime. It’s tough to create your own path in life when your parents don’t allow you to leave their shadows, and in the case of our leading stars from Charlestown, Massachusetts, bank heists and petty crime are as common as playing hockey at the rec center. The story jumps right in as they take a hostage, bank teller, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), during a robbery in the opening scene. After they let her go, Doug follows her to make sure she doesn’t know anything. But our tragic hero is a glutton for punishment and he falls in love. Doug wants out of the business but his best friend, James, who spent nine years in prison for manslaughter, won’t let Doug leave. Meanwhile, FBI agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), is developing a strong case against Doug and his crew. Also in the mix is James’ sister, Krista (Blake Lively), who’s a drug addict, single mother and occasional sex partner of Doug.
“The Town” comes close to cliché but changes the genre formula just enough to bring us back to the early days of crime films when it was easier to find sympathy for the devil. Doug’s an easy guy to love. He doesn’t kill and seems to care for the community. The people we don’t like are the really bad guys — the killers — and people in the FBI. You can’t like “the Man” when you’re watching a crime film. It ain’t the way of things. His strained relationship with Dad (Chris Carter), due to jail time, creates a clear-cut psych profile on why he’s a criminal, and the local crime boss, Fergie the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), doesn’t make things easy for someone who wants out. Nature versus nurture is the point here, and the film actually doesn’t cop out at the end by becoming a conservative tale of morality after letting us watch villainous characters for two hours.
I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone”, was a strong dramatic feature but it didn’t have any lasting value. “The Town” tells a much more epic story with all the bells and whistles: car chases, gunfights and a dash of romance and betrayal. Get ready for Shakespearian tragedy — just replace the poetic language with Boston accents and bad grammar.
This doesn’t feel like a normal Ben Affleck film. He’s not trying to woo an A-list beauty with his Abercrombie charm. Instead, he’s a timid man filled with regret, who greatly wants to leave behind his criminal life and find peace. Imagine a sequel to his role as Chuckie in “Good Will Hunting”, where he finally decides that he should be looking for a better life as well.
Coming off an Oscar nominated performance in “The Hurt Locker”, Jeremy Renner tries out a thick Boston accent, also returning to his earlier acting days as the anti-hero. He’s pretty caricatured as the best friend gone bad, but he plays the cliché well. “Gossip Girl” star, Blake Lively, tries out method acting, taking on a role as a mumbling junkie with too much love for the wrong man. The surprise here is it works. Lively, not exactly known for taking on memorable acting roles, proves she’s got some acting chops, even if she spends most of her time dolled up for CW tweens and prepping for the next scandalous billboard ad campaign.
The critical rave surrounding this one is pretty high, but I wouldn’t feel right saying it’s Oscar-worthy. After all, it is a genre film with some pretty predictable elements…but, so help me, Oscar does love those crime films, even when fresh ideas may be more deserving.
“The Town” is receiving quite a bit of positive reception, and why not? It’s the first strong film in some time.
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