' ' Cinema Romantico: The Town

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Town

In his second film as director Ben Affleck: The Bostonian acquits himself very well. Above all else "The Town", much like his debut "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), possesses a distinct sense of place. Set in and around and filmed largely on site in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, the film feels truly inhabited. Homes feel lived in and streets feel walked on and do not just come across as inventions of the production designer. It lends an authenticity to the proceedings that, frankly, the film itself cannot quite match, even if it tries diligently. Ben Affleck: Actioneer and Ben Affleck: Screenwriter (working with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on Chuck Hogan's novel) cannot match Ben Affleck: Bostonian.

Affleck is Doug McRay, a second generation bank robber, his father (Chris Cooper) long since locked away, and his closest partner in crime is Jem (Jeremy Renner), the traditional trigger-happy, psychotic, "you're-a-brother-to-me" vagrant living on the edge. There are two others but they are unimportant, so unimportant they are really given no dimension whatsoever. As the film opens they commit a high-end armed robbery that goes sort-of awry as Jem takes hostage the beauteous bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall). Doug lets her go free but Jem decides she needs to be, you know, taken care of except Doug says he'll take care of it which instead turns into a flirtation and then a full fledged romance between bank robber and bank manager. Meanwhile the FBI is, as they must be, hot on the gang's trail.

Okay. First red flag. Doug/Claire Relationship. It is the crux of the film. As it goes, so goes "The Town" and, well, it does not quite go. Claire is given no background, no life of her own, no reason for exisiting outside of being the Key Witness In The FBI Investigation and Doug McRay's Love Interest. But then anymore this is the tragic plight of many female characters. More troubling is the way the courtship is presented. Almost instantly she is confessing secretive details about the heist to this man she hardly knows who happens to be making slightly suspicious inquiries about the same heist. Well....hmmmm....perhaps she has no confidants? There are references to her being a "toonie", a yuppie in The Town, and so perhaps she is an outcast where she lives? Except later she references her friends. "I told my friends about you," she tells Doug. A ha! So she does have confidants! Why wouldn't she tell them? Despite respectable work by Hall this love affair never passes Go and prevents the film from achieving the operatic and thematic heights it yearns to scale.

Second red flag. Bank Robberies. There are three placed at the Beginning, Middle and End. Each one increases the level of stunts, gunfire and production value. They are serviceable, workmanlike but have no pizzaz, no energy. They lack the adrenaline of Greengrass or the excessive macho lyricism of Mann. Most bothersome is that they feel forced, as if Affleck knew he needed these scenes for box office while the aspects of the project that truly appealed to him lay elsewhere.

The acting is solid. Renner does what he has to do with gusto and Blake Lively is so unrecognizable as the requisite Smelly Tramp that I, in fact, did not recognize her, though Jon Hamm stands out mostof all by livening up the tried and true role of the dogged FBI agent by playing him with a world-weary smarminess, an unctuous twinkle in his eye. His scenes with Lively suggest a man who cares little for the notions of good and evil, really, with no interest in helping anyone but himself.

The Lively character seems to be "The Town's" symbol. She desperately wants a relationship with Doug and he refuses to reciprocate, his roots pulling him in and trying to drag him under. Boston's native son clearly has a lot to say about his hometown and about the hold it still has him after all these years. Hopefully next time out he can craft a film that better expresses himself.


Wretched Genius said...

I largely agree with you on this one, though I did think the first and last robberies had some kick to them. And I absolutely loved the scene in the bar between Lively and Hamm. Surprisingly, I was hugely disappointed by Affleck's scene with Cooper. It felt like both of them had shown up to the set that day hungover.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, Chris Cooper was disappointing. He's always so reliable but it looked a lot like going through the motions.

Rory Larry said...

Affleck's one shining moment was with Titus Welliver right before Jon Hamm entered the room. I really liked that scene. Couldn't stand Hamm, thought the role was so one dimensional that even he couldn't rescue it. I was bored most of the movie. Just flat out bored

Castor said...

Totally agree with you on Claire/Doug. The movie should be/is supposed to revolve around their central romance but their relationship wasn't developed enough for that to happen, which made it a bit of a side-story instead.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Town, it was well directed and Affleck shows a lot of potential as a filmmaker