Friday, January 28, 2011

The Town

The Town begins with the line, "There are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year. Most of these professionals live in a 1-square-mile neighborhood called Charlestown."  The promotional posters claim that Boston is the "bank robbery capital of America."  Here's a shocker for you: that's not exactly true.  According to the FBI, Ohio had almost three times as many bank robberies as Massachusetts in the first quarter of last year, and all of Massachusetts might not reach 300 for the year.  According to an FBI spokesperson, they do not collect data by neighborhood, and Boston wasn't even in the top five cities for bank robberies in the US.  Does any of that matter?  Not really, I just like to research interesting claims made in movies.

Doug (Ben Affleck) is a second-generation Bostonian career criminal.  He commits armed robberies with his lifelong buddies, Jem (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy (Slaine), and Dez (Owen Burke).  Doug is the brains of the group, at least in part because he has stopped drinking and doing drugs, while all his friends care about are "coke and XBox."  The group lets Doug plan things out so nobody gets hurt and they all make it home safely.  The film opens with the team robbing a bank, wearing Rastafarian-inspired Skeletor masks and armed with automatic weapons.  The robbery goes more or less as planned, except for Jem beating an unarmed bank employee (Victor Garber) to a pulp and taking the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage.  During their escape, Doug calms everyone down and Claire is released, unharmed.  Still, Gloansy and Dez are a little put off by Jem's recklessness.  Bad news, guys: it's gonna get worse.  Jem took Claire's driver's license as a scare tactic to keep her from talking; she lives in their neighborhood, which is bad news for criminals trying to avoid being identified.  Jem offers to "take care of" Claire, but Doug opts to handle the mission himself; he "accidentally" meets her, just to see if she has any way to identify the group (she does).  But instead of doing the hard-boiled criminal thing and killing her or threatening her, Doug genuinely likes Claire and the two start dating.  As the story continues, Doug and Claire get more serious and Doug starts contemplating a life beyond Boston.  Meanwhile, the boys keep getting jobs from the local crime boss, Fergie the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), and the Florist doesn't take "no" for an answer.  Making things even worse, Jem is getting more and more reckless.  On top of all that, FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) has the group in his sights, has some circumstantial evidence to tie them to past robberies, and is now actively trying to get evidence to nail Doug and his buddies.  Isn't that just the way things work?  Whenever you want to get off the carousel, it just seems to get faster and faster.

This is Ben Affleck's second directorial effort and third co-writing credit, and he did another good job.  The supporting cast gave pretty good performances, with Renner as the clear stand-out in the cast, and Affleck handled the lead role well.  The robbery scenes were handled quickly and efficiently, which added to the impression of their team as a group of professionals.  The whole movie felt busy.  A lot happens; aside from the three armed robberies, there is the love story, Affleck and Renner's crumbling bromance, the FBI's case, and some father-son time between Affleck and Chris Cooper.  I don't know what else they might have added to the Extended Cut, which is twenty-eight minutes longer than the standard version I watched, but the pace of the film is brisk and everything clicks together nicely.

I'm not a huge fan of Ben Affleck's acting --- I think the last movie I enjoyed him in was Shakespeare in Love ---but he did a decent job here.  I don't think he played that remarkable of a character, but he was likable enough for me.  Jeremy Renner gave the film's best performace, bar none.  As the increasingly psychotic Jem, he made the movie.  You know how Joe Pesci made Goodfellas so much more entertaining with his surprising violence?  That is the rough equivalent of Renner in The Town.  Jon Hamm is pretty good as the FBI agent, but he was stuck between being a total jerk and a smart guy, but not enough of either to really impress me.  He did swear a lot, though, in a script peppered with profanity.  Rebecca Hall handled the more dramatic moments for her character well, but I was pretty indifferent to her overall.  Chris Cooper was good in his small role.  Blake Lively was only in a couple minutes of the film, so I have no idea why she is on the movie poster.  When you break this movie down to look at each actor's performance, it becomes apparent that this is really more of an ensemble cast than a star vehicle.  Somehow, though, Renner manages to draw all the attention his way.

After finishing the film, I joked to my wife that this was like Heat, but without the great expectations.  That's actually not a bad description at all.  Good job, self!  The Town shows us several well-executed and daring robberies, and looks good doing it.  It starts to do something different, with Doug's desire to leave crime behind him, but aside from the truly regrettable The Notebook-styled final shot of the movie, Affleck never follows through on that promise.  Yes, the inevitable shootout scenes were pretty well-done, even if nobody seemed to get shot, even at close range.  But this movie hinted at something a little different than the typical "one last heist" you see in so many crime movies.  The Town is a pretty good movie that, had it followed through on what made it different, could have been great.


  1. I agree on the Heat point although I'd take it further to call this movie "Baby Heat: Where the Criminals Actually Share Personal Lives." The action just wasn't as meticulously written. I kept waiting for them to step it up but it was more a bunch of heists. The thing I don't like about a lot of heist writing is that the writer controls both sides of the heist. The criminals look like geniuses because they know everything about the bank but the writer wrote the criminals and the bank so each one can know all the writer wants them to know about the other. Michael Mann does a better job of not pulling the wool over people's eyes and giving you the impression he's actually writing according to police/FBI/Bank procedure.

    Also, Tom Sizemore would have totally wasted Ashley Judd.

  2. I definitely agree with your point on the heists. Even on the jobs where they allegedly didn't have much time to plan, the criminals had a suspiciously abundant amount of data to work with.

    I think Michael Mann is a talented director and agree that his crime/action scenes are more realistic (the gunplay in the streets of Boston after the botched heist just killed me --- and apparently only me, since there were no accidental victims), but the man needs an editor. If he had this script, it would have been three hours, and that's not even the director's cut.