The Town is one of those rare mainstream Hollywood movies where it seems the stars have aligned for all involved, including an audience desperate for some A-list entertainment. Writer/director Ben Affleck is back in Boston with some street cred after his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, proved he had some talent behind the camera and his Oscar win for screenwriting was no fluke. Here he takes his gamble one step further by casting himself as the star, and he does a decent enough job with the role, not surprisingly giving himself all the best angles and never demands too much of himself while he’s clearly playing on home turf in this Charlestown crime drama.
As a director, he’s smart enough to line up a great supporting cast. Jeremy Renner (fresh from an Oscar nod for The Hurt Locker) chews the scenery well as Affleck’s best bud and trigger-happy bank-robbing partner. Indie darling and chameleon-like actress du jour Rebecca Hall makes the most of her role as a hostage-turned-love-interest for Mr. Affleck and seems primed now for her first big commercial hit. Meanwhile, as the FBI agent looking to bring the crime ring crashing down, Emmy-winning “madman” Jon Hamm, executes all the best lines with the same cool-as-a-cucumber Don Draper bravado one would hope to see on the big screen. Then there’s the lovely and tarted-up former TV-star Blake Lively, proving she can do serious work and has a bright future ahead. Lastly, veteran character actors Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite are on hand to read their lines with menace, melancholy and vigor.
It all makes for a gripping two hours. Using the award-winning crime novel, Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, as his backdrop, Affleck milks his hometown setting for all its worth (I like how they worked in Fenway Park at the end), once again clearly defining a place and a “character” that focuses on crime and people “caught up” in a way of life, but with humanistic overtones that normally evade this generation’s cold, self-aware crime flicks. There are some great action set pieces (including a daring car chase through Boston’s tight-cornered old town streets), but there’s also heart and solid character development that allows you to invest in the fates of the people involved in the heist and not just the slick mechanics of the clichéd cat-and-mouse games.
The Town is far from perfect. There are scenes that drag, some of the dialogue between Hall and Affleck could’ve been tighter and more natural, and there’s a few editing and framing techniques Affleck seems to have borrowed from Brian De Palma that don’t add anything to the story. Although some are claiming Affleck is attempting to do for Boston what Scorsese did for New York, let’s just clear the air and agree that Affleck is no Scorsese. He is a pretty good storyteller, though. And though it falls just shy of greatness, The Town is a damn good film.
Authenticious as one of the townies might say.
Written by David H. Schleicher