Dir. Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively
I put off watching Heat until a few months ago. Thank goodness I did, or else I wouldn’t have realized that The Town wants so much to be like the ‘90s heist thriller, except with a bunch of Mass-holes.
Who wants to go to Hahvad yahd and go to the bah next to the cah?
Set in real life Charlestown, Massachusetts, Doug (Ben Affleck) and his adoptive family are the ring leaders of a group of bank robbers responsible for a number of big jobs. They get away with it, until one robbery goes bad and they’re forced to take a hostage, a bank manager named Claire (Rebecca Hall). When they learn that she lives in their neighborhood, concerns surface about whether she might recognize them. To make sure there are no problems, Doug keeps close tabs on her, only to fall for her in the process. She inspires a need for change in him, something he can’t do until he’s finished one last steal at none other than Boston’s beloved Fenway Park.
Doug is the typical guy who wants to get out, but keeps getting pulled back in. He has shaken most of his demons (he attends AA meetings and drinks cranberry juice at the local bar), but his loyalty to the hood, his best friend, James (Jeremy Renner) and James’s hood rat sister, Krista (a skanked out Blake Lively) keep him trapped. To him, the only two solutions are leaving or going to the same jail where his father is incarcerated.
While Affleck surprised everyone with his directorial debut, the taut Gone Baby Gone, there are no surprises here. It’s a formulaic thriller, neither good nor awful, in the tradition of The Departed and the aforementioned Heat.
Taken from a story by Chuck Hogan, Affleck directed and, along with Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig, adapted the screenplay. We see that while his directing shows promise, the writing leaves much to be desired. Everyone talks the same, delivering loaded, seamless lines and monologues so forced and unnatural that you want to yell And, scene! after they end. “My brother died on a day like this,” says Claire, and you can begin to detect the smell of cheese wafting through the theater.
Much of the character development also suffers under Affleck’s sophomoric hand, leaving many in a one-dimensional wake. Claire suffers the most as an outsider in the fiercely isolated Charlestown, a yuppie who has moved in among wary, poor blue-collar people. But she’s a yuppie to the point where it becomes her only personality trait, a sweet, naive do-gooder who owns a Prius, volunteers at a community garden and ironically tries to recruit Doug for the Big Brother Big Sister program. I bet the radio in that hybrid is preset to NPR, too.
Rebecca Hall as The Yuppie: "I love J. Crew, ethnic food and gentrification."
The only assets that pull The Town from a mire of mediocrity are the strong performances from Renner and Hamm. Renner portrays the ruthless James, a trigger happy, prison-bred madman whose seething anger recalls James Cagney in Public Enemy or White Heat. His only loyalties are to his family and Doug, and if asked, he’s happy to shoot first and ask questions later as long as it indulges his violent tendencies.
Hamm displays an equal intensity as New York FBI agent Adam Frawley. Watching his performance, I was reminded of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, as the cat and mouse game he engages in while trying to take down Doug and his gang is approached with diligence, intelligence and nasty humor. The final showdown between he and James becomes the well-choreographed highlight of the movie, a sparring between two people of matched cunning and determination.
At the end of the film, there’s the equivalent of an apology to the people of Charlestown for making them seem like a bunch of thuggish, tattooed criminals. If you feel that you have to set something straight with the audience afterwards, that’s a clear sign that you didn’t do a good job. If his conscience still doesn’t feel clean, maybe Affleck should say sorry to Michael Mann for trying to rip off his movie. That should do the trick.