Fifteen years after Heat and four years after The Departed, Ben Affleck looks to stamp his place in crime fiction with a new, gritty action-drama set on the streets of Boston. The Town, about a group of increasingly violent bank robbers, is the opening act for awards season.
Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, the leader of a sophisticated band of young men from the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston that steals money from armored cars and banks. In their latest heist, his best friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) decides to take the bank's assistant manager hostage. After the heist is over, worried that the woman (Rebecca Hall) could identify them later on, Doug decides to get to know her - and ends up falling for her. Her name is Claire and they hit it off immediately. Doug realizes that his life of crime may not be worth it, but getting out of Charlestown isn't as easy as it seems. Furthermore, the FBI, led by Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), is hot on his tail.
Many people often criticize Ben Affleck's ability to act, placing him in the same camp as Paul Walker or Keanu Reeves. While he hasn't been as successful at choosing his projects as friend Matt Damon, Affleck has shown that when given the right material he can perform. Furthermore, he's an Oscar-winning writer and his directorial debut in 2007's Gone Baby Gone proves that he is a force to be reckoned with when behind the camera. The Town is his second major film.
The Town is not Heat, even if wants to be. The acting throughout is great, but Affleck versus Hamm is never going to be compete with De Niro versus Pacino (well, ignoring Righteous Kill). More importantly, The Town is very similar to Heat in theme and plot, opening it up for undesirable comparisons. One of my friends, upon leaving the theater, declared that while the movie was really good, it was a complete rip-off of Heat. Another said that The Town pulled from other, better movies and she couldn't get into it as a result. In other words, The Town is good but not original.
Regardless of its originality or lack thereof, The Town is a superbly made, strongly acted and exciting crime thriller. It's receiving the first serious Oscar buzz of the year and for good reason, though its odds come awards season aren't good. For starters, there haven't been a lot of good movies in 2010 and it's still way too early to assume that this movie will be the talk of the town - no pun intended - in three months. Nevertheless, The Town is one of the first must-see movies of the year.
The Town succeeds largely on its acting, which all around is incredibly good. Affleck delivers a fine performance, not quite raw but emotional and moving. His supporting cast is even better. Jeremy Renner, fresh off an Oscar nomination earlier this year, is visceral. Jon Hamm is very good, even if his hairdo isn't (though some of the lines he has to deliver, while witty, are stereotypical for a fictional FBI agent). Rebecca Hall is excellent. And Blake Lively delivers the best performance of his career, proving that she does indeed have a long and successful career ahead of her.
Pete Postlethwaite is also amazing in a small and under-serving, but memorable, role.
The movie looks and feels like an upper tier crime thriller, because it is. The action is slick and exciting, featuring sequences not unlike some of the more memorable Michael Mann action sequences we know and love. Nothing compares to the gunfight in Heat, but Affleck comes close a couple of times. The rest of the movie, primarily a drama, is exceptionally done. Affleck needs to direct more than a movie every three years.
There are a few small flaws, mostly unavoidable. The relationship between Doug and Claire is pivotal to the story, and yet due to the nature of movie their relationship must take a back seat in the final act. More time needed to be spent on Claire's character, especially in the final stages of the movie. Of all the characters, she is the only one with a choice: does she side with Doug, who she knows is a dangerous man, or with the law? Affleck focuses on her equally in the first act, but then pulls back and only shows her from his perspective the rest of the way. She becomes less interesting because we aren't able to see her make the tough decisions she is forced to make.
The Town isn't perfect, and it isn't Best Picture material, but it's one of the best movies of 2010 so far. Definitely recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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