Monday, September 20, 2010

The Town (2010)

The Town is a crackling crime thriller, churning and burning with the perception and execution the guys behind Takers can only pretend to dream of. Like so many of its brethren, director/writer/star Ben Affleck’s caper rolls along the familiar roads of “one last job” cinema, slamming through timeworn potholes as it dodges its police tail while balancing complicated brotherhood relationships and dangerous new romances. It could easily have been “this generation’s Heat” but chooses not to be, even as it lays down fire to the familiar score of Michael Mann cinema. Instead The Town opts for the East Coast blue collar rout, snubbing L.A’s gloss for Celtic pride as it establishes itself as the most Boston of crime dramas.

The Town digs deep – into the soils of Boston’s proud history, into the mentality of its battling native sons, into the depths of its cathedral. What it emerges with is something intimate and impressive, sharp even in its sloppiness. The story is of Doug MacRay (Affleck), a prince in a family of thieves. Doug runs a team of crooks out of Charlestown, which we’re told at the beginning of the film is something akin to the national capital of robbery. His second-in-command is a live-wire named James (Jeremy Renner), a brother in blood even if not of it. They abide the honor-toned laws of a neighborhood Boston’s top cops (Jon Hamm, Titus Welliver) would just as soon see cut off and floating out to sea.

During their latest heist - stealing corporate money from their wealthier brothers in Cambridge - James broke rank and decided to take a hostage (Rebecca Hall). A big no-no, made worse by the fact that Doug’s smitten by her. And so it comes to be that the one person who can ruin all their lives is the one woman Doug can’t live without.

That’s the selling point of the trailer anyway, but really it’s just the catalyst. This is a movie about a man in crisis. He’s chained to his past, to his neighborhood, to his profession and its imminent future. And as all those elements manifest to torment him, he finds himself rebelling against them, awakened by the potential of the man he could be, the man he sees himself as when he’s with her.

Of course rebellion is as dangerous and bloody as anything, particularly in Boston. From the very opening shot of Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument, its clear rebellion is what we’re in for.

Of course Affleck himself is a bit of a rebel. Knocked down and out of Hollywood’s powerful ranks after a series of flops as an actor, he’s refashioned himself as a fiery writer/director, using his home city as his kindle. The followup to the very excellent, and very different Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town is a prophesized return, a statement to his aptitude not only as a director, but to the writing/acting talent he originally established. Co-written with Peter Craig and his Gone partner Aaron Stockard, his script is tight (sometimes too tight) and compelling, built upon quippy dialogue, smart staging and memorable set pieces. There’s some overly-whimsical dialogue (particularly in Doug’s scenes with the banker-turned-hostage-turned-lover) and some missed opportunities, but the story stands strong.

And the actors stand proudly upon it. In his first relevant non-Mad Men role, Hamm makes for an intimidating counter-hero, a good guy willing to do bad to get his man. Smart and iron-forged, he provides just the right amount of assholery necessary for us to root against him.

Renner plays the other end of the spectrum with a tenacious devotion. He’s similar to the bomb-technician he played in Hurt Locker (in that he himself is the bomb), but minus the good nature and military structure. He’s like a Rottweiler, loyal, volatile and undeniable.

Affleck the actor is strong as well, which I’d like to say is a given, but is really a nice surprise. So too is Blake Lively as his townie ex, and Hall as his would be future.

But as proficient as his acting and writing is, it's Affleck’s direction here that will really knock you to the floor. His style is tempered but engaging, simple and honest in one scene, electric and intense in the next. His gun battles and chases navigate these streets with a brash yet irrefutable confidence. And his movie is, once again, one of the year’s best.

1 comment:

The Bru said...

Excellent review, dude. Love it!!


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