Comparisons will be made to Ben Affleck’s The Town to such films as Heat, Reservoir Dogs, White Heat, La Haine, Blast of Silence and many other crime/heist films. In retrospect, the film does borrow wonderful aspects of all those films and the genre itself but is in no way a knock at the film itself. Instead it showcases how Ben Affleck has grown in the director’s chair already, this being his second time directing, and you wouldn’t know it by watching the film. The Town is the must see film of the season right now and not a moment too soon.
After a lackluster summer, where the blockbusters were anything but, The Town is the film I had wished I had seen back in June. But considering this is the start of Oscar bait season, it makes sense to showcase this film because not only is the directing top notch, but the cinematography is spot on, showing the beauty of Boston and Charlestown (the ‘town’ in question), thanks to Robert Elswit.
The Town tells the story of Doug McCray (Ben Affleck), a blue collar everyman who lives in Charlestown, which is known by police and the FBI has the hotbed for crime, especially when it comes to bank robbery. Most people used to have a trade in plumbing or carpentry, but these folk learn the heist trade from their families and McCray’s crew are some of the best. His best friend, James ‘Jem’ Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is the hothead best friend, who tends to not only go over the line but stomps on it and beats it with the end of his gun. But it is always about family, and we get that throughout the film as being the most important thing of all.
The film’s most thrilling moments are the three heists that are strategically placed at the beginning, the middle and the end of the film. A wonderful pacing method there by Affleck and editor Dylan Tichenor and makes the dramatic talky scenes play along at a nice clip. Each heist is bigger, better and more white knuckle inducing than the last, with some great gun play and a car chase to boot. It takes the best parts of other heists in films and gives them a run for their money, all of them are worthy set pieces by themselves. The masked villains gives a reaction to think of Point Break or The Dark Knight’s frenetic opening, both great in their genre goodness, and The Town is an evolutionary step in the heist film. Caring about these characters makes the scenes even more kinetic and stomach churning, doing so to myself, holding my breath the whole time and breathing a sigh of relief when they narrowly get away from the heroes of the film, which are supposed to be the FBI, led by Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm, pushing aside his trademark Mad Men dapper looks for a more updated frazzled fed).
But as in most crime films, we root for the bad guys. Ben Affleck does an admirable job as McCray, Boston accent blasting through his performance, but the real star of this movie is Jeremy Renner. Hot off his Oscar nominated turn as Sergeant First Class William James in The Hurt Locker, Renner’s Jem is one part Mr. Blonde, a sprinkle of Chris Shiherlis, a bit of Tommy DeVito and tops off with Arthur ‘Cody’ Jarrett. He somehow mixes all these portrayls into one but it is his own performance. You want to hate this guy for almost ruining his friend’s life many times, yet we still like him and want to see what he will do next. One scene in particular shows Jem and Doug go to beat up some hoods in the projects. It starts off brutal and fun, but ends with an uncomfortable feeling where you, the viewer, starts to cringe a bit at his actions.
Sadly I haven’t mentioned the main love interest, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). She does a good job, but the one complaint in the film would be that the women feel like they are there just to further the plot along. Especially Blake Lively’s Krista Coughlin, sister to Jem and former love interest of Doug. We know her drug addiction and whorish ways will somehow put the gang in danger later on by turning on them because of a lover’s quarrel. Predictability isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case it’s just lazy writing.
Ben Affleck hits his sophomoric directing gig out of the park (Fenway Park to be exact in the film’s huge and breathtaking shootout finale) and this makes me happy. Up until Hollywoodland, he was looked upon almost as a joke as an actor so it seems he had taken a few steps back to get his career back on the right track and then took a seat in the director’s chair and showed he had the chops for a great crime film about his Boston hometown. He does it again and hopefully the movie going public will go in droves to the theaters this weekend.