A Memorable Trip Through “The Town”
Ben Affleck takes his second shot at directing with “The Town,” a crime drama set in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston that is reportedly a haven for bank robbers. The result of his sophomoric attempt is akin to Michael Mann’s superb 1995 feature “Heat,” another modern cops vs. robbers film.
Bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) is briefly taken hostage and released when a crew of robbers raids her bank. When the robbers discover that Claire lives in the same district as they do, quick-tempered Jem (Jeremy Renner) becomes jittery and suggests that they find out what she knows.
Leader Doug (Affleck) decides to seek Claire out himself and subsequently begins a relationship with her. As their romance deepens, he wishes to leave Charlestown and start a new life. However, complications arise when the FBI closes in and Jem suspects Doug’s loyalty. Doug soon realizes that, no matter what his choice may be, betrayal and death is imminent.
Affleck proves to be gifted behind the camera. Not only does he keep the film moving at a brisk pace, he also consistently maintains its sense of authenticity. “The Town” never drags once, and the characters, dialogue and events are very convincing.
The film’s plot is structured very clearly and balances action and exposition well. However, there are parts of the story that don’t fully work. One is an unnecessary subplot concerning the mystery of why Doug’s mother left when he was still a child, and the other is the film’s off-putting ending.
Unfortunately, character development is limited to Doug, Claire and Jem. With that being said, the other characters are rather underwritten and their actors must consequently try their best with what little they may have.
After a series of bad to middling performances (along with “winning” one out of five Razzie nominations), Affleck demonstrates the best of his acting abilities as Doug. Nailing the emotions of his character, he is deservedly on par with the rest of the cast.
Hall skillfully communicates Claire’s anguish and vulnerability after experiencing such a traumatic event. In addition, she shares such a great chemistry with Affleck that causes the viewer to accept and care about their relationship.
Renner flawlessly executes his character’s lack of self-control and adopts a perfect Irish American accent. When Jem isn’t angry or dangerous, Renner succeeds in assuming such charisma that it is hard not to like his character despite his intentions.
As FBI Special Agent Frawley, Jon Hamm doesn’t have much of an impact due to the fact that his character is decidedly one-note and hardly evolves. Nevertheless, his approach to the role is good and, when given the opportunity, demonstrates his “Mad Men” charm with his fellow actresses.
The most surprising performance comes from Blake Lively who plays Krista, Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex-girlfriend. In her short amount of time onscreen, she is excellent when depicting her character’s bad-girl activities and attitude, although her accent makes her dialogue hard to understand.
Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite shine as Doug’s father Stephen and crime boss Fergie, respectively. Although they have relatively brief appearances, Cooper effectively indicates the impact prison has on a man, and Postlethwaite is nothing short of menacing when delivering bone-chilling threats.
The heists are exhilarating to watch because of how gritty and realistic they are. The sound editors ought to be proud. The crashing of cars, the screeching of tires and rattles of gunfire sound just like they do in real life.
Moreover, the costumes that the robbers wear during their heists are eye-popping. In the opening scene, the crew sport dreadlocked skull masks and, later on, they dress in nun habits and robes. The sight of men wearing such outfits is downright eerie and striking.
Although the action sequences are thrilling, Affleck films them with dizzying results. Instead of keeping the camera a considerable distance away from the subject at hand, he chooses to film the subject several feet away. While this is an exceptional technique if the subject has limited movement, it amounts to no better than a shaky camera if the subject is constantly moving, which certainly applies to the running and car chases in the film.
With “The Town,” Ben Affleck is indubitably looking at a prolific directing career. Despite its minor problems in plot, character development and Affleck’s filming of action sequences, the film capitalizes from its wonderful cast and authentic feel.