9/22/10

Review: The Town (2010)


Ben Affleck's The Town, based on the novel Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan (which I have not read), is a smart, fast-paced heist film with a heart of gold. It may be a little too perfect for its own good, but it delivers a thrill ride with great performances and a clever, solid picaresque film without being too flashy. It's maybe a bit neat, but that's a minor complaint.

Affleck co-wrote, directed and stars as Doug MacRay, a former rising hockey star whose lacking skating skills and goofing off getting in fights got him kicked out of training camp and led him home to Charlestown and the only other life he had any training for, armed robbery, just like his old man.

Charlestown is talked up early as the armed robbery capital of America, so much so that a disclaimer appears near the end assuring us that Charlestown folks are just like any folks anywhere.

The Charlestown folks we meet in The Town, however, are true psychopaths. Affleck's character is made both the most sympathetic, and the smartest of the crew. He seems to have some shreds of conscience, if not for public order, and tries to keep his armed robberies non-violent. As in real life, this is easier said than done.

MacRay's crew is made up of his childhood friend and blood brother, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner, very good, Cagney-esque), who's seen some prison time, driver Albert Magloan (Slaine), and tech guy Desmond Elden (Owen Burke). They're ruthless, efficient and read-up on the latest in forensics, leaving little or no traces behind on their jobs. We follow them through three jobs, the first of which introduces a complication.

James takes a hostage during the first robbery on which we ride along, a bank teller named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, excellent), and later worries because she might have seen something to which she could testify. Doug assures him he'll take care of it, and promptly stalks and falls in love with her. The feeling seems mutual, until, of course, the investigation progresses, James gets antsier and secrets are dragged out into the open.

Leading the investigation is the FBI's Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," very good and looking like Superman, a role he's rumored to be considered for). Hamm's character is smart but constrained for a while. He's effective if not always likable, or as wise as one might hope from our real law enforcers. But when he finally goes on offense, all bets are off.

Chris Cooper is very effective in nearly a cameo role as MacRay's father. Despite lacking screen time, he makes a strong impression amazingly economically. Affleck, Renner, Hall, Hamm, Blake Lively as Coughlin's sister and Pete Postlethwaite as "the florist" are all outstanding. The relationship between Doug and Claire gets very forced, logically, but our actors make it believable when it maybe shouldn't quite be. The score is tense and appropriate, though there are two composers listed, and two distinct styles to the music, and one theme was perhaps not as well used as it might have been.

If you're just looking for an exciting action picture, The Town is definitely one. Great performances and attention to detail lift it above genre limitations to something more, despite flaws. It's not quite as good as Affleck's devastating feature directing debut, Gone Baby Gone, but give it a try.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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