Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Two-Cents on The Town

Say what you will about Ben Affleck as an actor, but one thing people cannot deny is that he is quickly becoming one of the stronger directors, and maybe even screenwriters, in Hollywood.

Once Affleck's acting career started to take some serious hits (some criticism was warranted, most it wasn't), Ben decided to change things up and went behind the camera to direct 2007's Gone Baby Gone, which was widely praised much to the surprise of many. Three years later, people should not be so shocked that Affleck has given us another good film in the form of The Town.

The story of The Town was pretty straightforward and standard. After falling for a hostage his crew took during one of its heists, Boston bank robber Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) wants out of his criminal lifestyle and wants out of his Charlestown neighborhood. Of course his surrogate family and those he works for will not let him go so easily, which leads to the inevitable last job. Again, standard stuff, but Affleck was able to tell the story in an effective way.

What makes The Town a successful cops and robbers film was the tone. Much like Gone Baby Gone, the canvas was very gray. While you had two people on opposite sides of the law, you really did not have good guys and bad guys. Doug MacRay was not a hero. He's a thief and a liar, but I couldn't help but root him. On the other side, F.B.I Special Agent Adam Frawley (played by Jon Hamm) was the law, but he's just as manipulative, if not more so, than the so-called bad guy. Frawley wasn't a dirty cop by any means, and he did his job well, but you're not supposed to like him very much which was an example of the The Town's brilliance.

Also like Gone Baby Gone, the city of Boston (more specifically the neighborhood of Charlestown) was a character unto itself. Affleck once again was able to show the grittier side of his hometown, which really gave the movie a sense of realism. Viewers were even given an inside glimpse of Fenway Park, which was probably the most impressive aspect of the film in my opinion. The only drawback about using blue-collar Boston as a setting was it started to get distracting. Almost everyone had a thick accent and spoke in slang, which I'm sure gave the movie authenticity, but there were too many times when I didn't understand what was being said, and that took me out of the story a few times. We also saw way too much Red Sox and Bruins paraphernalia. You're in Boston, we got it already.

Some of the human characters were a little one-dimensional, but great performances made up for the lack of depth. For example, we really didn't learn much about Frawley besides the fact that he's a Fed. We don't know where he's coming from or what his motivation was for catching MacRay's crew except for the fact that they broke the law. MacRay's best friend James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner, was your typical loose cannon sidekick with a death wish, but not much else. While these characters were not as fleshed out as the two leads, both Jon Hamm and the aforementioned Renner really brought their A game to the table, which made Frawley and Jim more interesting than they should have been.

Rebecca Hall did a good job as Claire Keesey. It would have been easy to make Claire just a victim, but Hall was able to make her layered and likable enough, which helped the audience care about her especially since she was being manipulated by both Doug and Frawley. Claire didn't exhibit girl power like I'm sure some people would have wanted, but she was real and strong in her own way.

People are probably going to complain about Ben Affleck's performance because that's what most people are programmed to do, but I felt Doug was one of the stronger characters and Ben did a good job of brining him to life. Yes, he was the main character so he should be the most developed, but like I mentioned before, he was a character I could root for, and I think that was partially due to how Affleck portrayed him.

The Town was more character driven than most crime dramas, which is always a nice change of pace, but that doesn't mean that the movie was a slow burn. Affleck was able to fit in three heist jobs, an intense car chase, and a massive shoot out amongst the more intimate moments. You add some will timed suspense (the scene where Jim showed up one of Doug's dates with Claire was nuts) and humor, and you have yourself a pretty solid film.

Will The Town make people forgive Affleck for some of his poor acting choices? Unfortunately probably not, but he's starting to prove himself as an extremely capable director. Not many people can inject the standard crime genre with creativity and new life, but that's what Affleck was able to do with The Town. It may not be on the level same of The Departed or Mystic River, but Ben could join the ranks of Scorsese and Eastwood if he keeps making movies like this one.

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