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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Town is Wicked Entertainment

The Town: 4 out of 5 Stars  
Doug MacRay:  I'm puttin' this whole town in my rear view.
The Town is a very fun bank heist/cops and robbers movie.  The film is Ben Affleck's second time in the director's chair, a follow up to the excellent Gone Baby Gone, and this film proves that he is quite capable behind the camera.  The film is well made, wonderfully entertaining, and backed by a strong cast.  Even as it follows some familiar beats of this genre, it manages to be both a crowd- pleaser and confident in its structure.

Ben Affleck also stars in the lead role as Doug MacRay, a career criminal, specializing in band and armored car robbery.  As the film opens, he and his crew, which includes live wire Jeremy Renner (fresh off his Oscar nom for The Hurt Locker) as Doug's best friend Jem, rushing into a bank, dressed as masked Skeletors.  The men all efficiently work to get the money and keep the crowd under control, only to leave with the bank manager as a hostage.  This hostage is Claire, played by Rebecca Hall, who they drop off at a beach, blindfolded, later on.

An FBI agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), is later on the scene, trying to figure out who is behind this, and bring the men to justice.  He questions Claire, as she is the only possible witness, but Claire is way too terrified to give any useful knowledge.  The bank robbers know that Claire is a possible liability, so Doug plans to find her and sneak out some knowledge from her to figure out if the men need to do something about her.  Of course, Doug also has a heart of gold, so he forms a relationship of sorts with Claire, who is oblivious to his true identity.  As the film progresses, Doug and the team must manage to pull off one or two "last jobs" while the FBI pursues them as possible suspects.

Other actors popping up in small roles are Pete Postlethwaite as "The Florist," who is the local crime boss, Blake Lively as Jem's druggie sister with a young daughter and Doug's ex-girlfriend, and Chris Cooper as Doug's father, who is serving five life sentences.  All of the actors present in the cast do a fine job throughout.

The film is set in the tough neighborhood of Charlestown, withing Boston, Massachusetts.  Here, there are apparently a lot of bank robberies, and most people from here, we are told, grow up to be criminals.  While I didn't see much of that in this film, it is a wonderful location, which is captured quite well do to the cinematography by Robert Elswit.  It's nice to see a film like this on location (for example - The Departed, a very Boston film, was mostly shot in New York) because it provides for some nice authenticity and helps in setting up the audience geographically speaking for later events.

FBI S.A. Adam Frawley:  I just want you to know that you're going to die in federal prison.
But enough about the setting, more impressive is how well the action is handled.  Clearly taking a page from Heat (which Affleck thankfully doesn't try to 1-up), he manages to create some thrilling sequences, all very entertaining, that include the bank heists, a solid car chase, and some shootouts.  The camera is never too intrusive, and despite having bullets function more as flashes of light until the screenplay needs a death, the gunplay at least looks solid.  As an action thriller, the film is certainly solid.

Acting-wise, the whole cast is pretty good.  While I think Affleck has proven himself as a solid director, he has also managed to put up some solid performances in smaller roles in recent years.  While he became way to overexposed in the early 00's, I've never really thought badly about him (it helps that he's just a really funny dude and that he was the bomb in Phantoms yo!).  Here, he does some of his best work.  Hall is also quite good, as is Hamm (but it's hard to not see Don Draper of Mad Men).  Postlethwaite is chilling in his few scenes, but the best really is Renner, but I think that's more due to how little he gets to do, compared to the others. You get just enough of him and have the most questions about how his character will end up.  I must also note that even with all the Boston accents, I still enjoyed watching this cast.



The only real problem with this film is more of a thought that will make it positive in that crowd pleasing sense.  While Affleck's previous film, Gone Baby Gone, dealt more with morality and hard choices, this film really plays it out straight forward, and doesn't require other answers besides what the film gives us.  That is to say that the film is really not that complex, with the most challenging thing for us to accept is Affleck's character arc from criminal to a guy who wants to get away from it all.  I also think that the final third, although entertaining, could have been strengthened more if it focused less on its shootouts (Heat had its huge, climactic shootout in the middle of the film, devoting the rest of the film to the fallout afterward).

Little knocks aside, I immensely enjoyed this film.  It's a lot of fun, not quite Point Break in terms of 100% Adrenaline ('Break's tagline), but still very solid, with some great action sequences, good performances, and solid direction.
FBI S.A. Adam Frawley: This is the not fucking around crew so get me something that looks like a print because this not fucking around thing is about to go both ways.

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