Ben Affleck's The Town
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Town (2010)
"The Town" is Ben Affleck's second feature as director after his intriguing drama "Gone Baby Gone." He has shown that he has tremendous skills behind the camera and now he brings that talent to another drama, but this time, he's taking on a film that has a little more action, something that can quickly become difficult for someone not experienced with it. Yet, Affleck shows that he's more than up to the task.
The story is set in the town of Charleston, Massachusetts where a group of bank robbers, including Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), have carried out numerous jobs. The film opens with them robbing a bank where Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is the manager. Not knowing what to do with her, the group takes her hostage, but lets her go after dropping her off blindfolded near a beach.
Concerned that she might be able to lead the FBI to them, Doug takes it upon himself to check up on her to see if she knows anything. While at a laundromat, he asks her out on a date. The two quickly become acquainted and start a relationship. Meanwhile, an FBI agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), is on the trail of the robbers. He thinks he knows who the robbers are, but lacks the evidence to bring them in. Eventually, Doug reveals that he wants to leave town with Claire, but that may be harder than it seems.
At first, it looked like this was going to be another ordinary, run-of-the-mill heist film with little thought put into the characters and numerous actions scenes. Luckily, we get a little more than that. What differentiates "The Town" from other heist films, like the recent "Takers," is better written characters. They seem a lot more three-dimensional than most you would find in such a film.
This is greatly assisted by the fact that the focus of the movie is not on the robberies themselves, though those do provide for some thrilling sequences, but more so on the relationship between Doug and Claire. Doug thinks he is just checking up on a possible witness who could eventually lead the FBI to him and his friends, but it turns out to be much more than that.
Throughout the film, as they get to know each other, Doug slowly opens up to Claire, telling her things that possibly his closest friends don't even know. In one particularly effective scene, he tells her of the night when his father told him that his mother had left and was never coming back. This relationship becomes a sort of centerpiece of the film, rather than just having heist after heist with no character development.
Affleck and Renner turn in a pair of powerful performances as friends who think of each other as brothers. Affleck has shown that, when he has good material, he can give quite a performance. Renner, you may recall, also gave a good performance in last year's big Oscar winner, "The Hurt Locker," for which he was nominated for Best Actor. Late in the film, we learn of how these two characters grew up together from an early age. Affleck and Renner are able to show their brotherly bond quite well.
Another particularly interesting part of this film is the way these robbers pull off their heists. For starters, they wear a unique mask for certain robberies including a freaky skeleton and an elderly nun. They have everything pinned down to the letter, knowing exactly what has to happen and when. Then, when the robbery has been completed, they burn the environment of the robbery to remove any traces of their having ever been there. The same goes for the getaway car after they make their escape.
This all comes down to a third act that, for once, is not entirely predictable from the start. It's true that we get a shootout like we've seen in dozens of other films, but it is staged well by Affleck and makes for an entertaining and somewhat thrilling climax. Every once in a while, it's nice to see a film where you're not staring at cardboard cutouts that are on a path set out before them that you know they can't diverge from. 3/4 stars.
Inception now has competition as far as my favorite movie of the year goes. I was never bored or uninterested while watching this movie about bank robbers from a section of Boston. Whether it was the thrilling bank robbing scenes, the sequences surrounding the movie's star Ben Affleck's character, or the several great character defining scenes . . . I couldn't turn away from this great movie.
And it wasn't just the great action scenes and characters, there were a lot of little things that kept this movie interesting: like the backstory surrounding the main character's mother, the diamond necklace, the note that's left on the FBI agent's car, and even the masks/disguises the thieves wear made the movie memorable. These and other little things connected different parts of the movie, even if it's not evident until later in the film. I absolutely loved how the mother storyline concluded. The little things made this movie that much better.
Ben Affleck did a spectacular job not only acting in the movie, but directing the flick as well. I think it was his vision and performance together brought this movie together. His direction brought excitement and tension to each of the bank robbing scenes - I was on the edge of my seat watching him and Jeremy Renner walking from where they had just tied up a bunch of guards and stolen a boatload of money to their cohorts and the getaway vehicle. He obviously did a great job directing the actors because all of them delivered top-notch performances. Jeremy Renner, fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn in The Hurt Locker, was amazing again in this as his over-the-edge co-bank robber. Jon Hamm does a great job as the FBI agent tracking the thieves. Rebecca Hall plays Affleck's love interest very well, and even Blake Lively turns in a worthy performance as a strung out ex-fling of Affleck's. Affleck brings them all together not only as their co-star, but as their director.
There are a lot of comparisons to another great heist thriller, Heat. The Town follows the thieves more than the cops, but both have great, thrilling action sequences, great characters, and interesting storylines and subplots. There are several and enough differences to make The Town stand on its own. Ben Affleck has made a thrilling heist movie and is really starting to stand out as filmmaker.
this was a great movie. ben affleck is definitely coming up in the movie industry.
I was looking forward to "The Town", since I like action-thriller movies, and, being from the Boston area, have always been interested in films about Boston. Unfortunately, I found the film a disappointment on many fronts, and, imo, was overrated. "The Town" had the potential for being an all-time great film, and I would've liked to have liked it. However, I found that there were too many flaws in it that caused "The Town" to fall well short of that potential.
A) Ben Affleck and his assistant producer(s) wanted to cut the film down from 4 hours, which was completely and totally understandable, but they went way overboard in that respect, leaving too many loose ends and too many dots unconnected that might've made "The Town" more credible. There was too much slip-shod, slap-happy editing of this film, making it too fast-paced and leaving little, if any room, for the audience to stop and take a breather, if one gets the drift.
B) The scenes, car chases and car crashes, most notably in the North End and Fenway Park, were extremely overblown, to the point of total unbelievability, with too much exploding on the screen. Imho, there was really no need for such excesses.
C) Blake Lively did a good job as the skanky, drug-addicted, loose-moraled single mother, Krista Coughlin, who was also Doug MacRay's ex-girlfriend and sister of Doug's best friend and right-hand man, "Jem" Coughlin, an unstable, psychotic dust-head, who was played skillfully and fantastically by Jeremy Renner. Those were the two best characters in the film, imo.
Although I sympathized with the bank manager, Claire Keesey in the beginning, when her bank was robbed by Doug and his henchmen, and she was forced to open the vault at gunpoint (which really wasn't her fault), I found myself becoming less and less sympathetic with Claire as the film went on. My sympathy ran out on Claire well before the end of the film, because she not only made the mistake of accepting a date with a perfect stranger that she'd met in a laundromat, who turned out to be one of the guys (Doug) who'd robbed her bank only days before, but she continued to have contact with Doug and to abet him in his crimes, even after learning who he truly was through the Feds (pictures), and after the Feds learned of Doug and Claire's relationship through a recorded telephone conversation between the two of them.
More to the point, Claire not only lied to the Feds about who Doug really was, in order to cover him, but she lied to the Feds about the fact that she'd noticed a "Fighting Irish" tattoo on the back of "Jem"'s neck, but she continued to abet Doug and ultimately tipped him off to the Feds' presence in her Charlestown condo apartment when they were literally on the cusp of arresting Doug and sending him to prison, where he belonged.
Keeping the stolen money that Doug left for her before he skipped town for Florida also put Claire in an extremely bad light. She had no right to keep that stolen money and spend money that wasn't hers to spend on the renovation of a local ice-hockey rink, no matter how noble a deed it supposedly was. Using stolen money for that purpose was wrong, imho. She should've turned that ill-gotten money into the police anonymously, and found more honest ways of getting funding for the renovation of the ice-hockey rink.
All of the above having been said, Claire should've also been criminally prosecuted for abetting Doug, who was a professional armed robber/felon and wanted fugitive and helping him go free, and for receiving stolen goods (a duffel bag full of ill-gotten money).
Doug was played well by Ben Affleck, but the Boston accent was rather overdone and somewhat pretentious, I think. As a character, however, Doug is not the decent guy that he comes off as. The only reason that Doug prevented "Jem" from killing or harming Claire was to protect him and his men from going back to jail. Doug was interested in being romantic with Claire for one real reason (he oh so subtlely warned her not to talk to the Feds, or else!): to extract a promise from her that she wouldn't talk to the Feds, which is what he got. In other words, Doug hid behind a smooth, cool, calm, charming and collected nature in order to exploit Claire and take advantage of her at a most vulnerable moment; after being traumatized by the robbery to quit her job and the bank. Yet, it's true that Claire allowed herself to be taken advantage of by Doug, (Out of fright, naivete, or willful ignorance, or due to being so desperately lonely and anxious to snag a guy that she'd fall for a professional criminal and armed felon such as Doug), and to fall for his lies and deceitful behavior, becoming an access to his crimes, after the fact. No sympathy or respect for Doug and Claire, on my part. Having said all of the above, my opinion is that Claire should've gone to Agt. Frawley for help immediately when she realized who Doug was, and that she was in way over her head, instead of continuing to abet him. So saying, it was a mistake for Claire to accept a date with Doug, a total stranger (and criminal) in the first place. Had she been a bit smarter, she would've been able to sense that Doug was a rather shady character and really not a nice guy, not gotten involved with him in the first place, and thus saved herself a great deal of trouble and heartache.
Krista was clearly no angel, but neither was Claire, as it turned out.
Frankly, I think the movie "The Town" would've been a better movie than it was if the ending had been different. The FBI instructed Claire to have Doug come to her apartment for a reason; so they could nab him and send him to jail. Unfortunately, Claire did something else illegal; she tipped Doug off to the Feds' presence in her apartment with the "Sunny days" code, and warned him away, thus helping Doug escape justice. Claire should've made a deal with the Feds to help organize a "sting" operation similar to the way in which pedophiles are often caught, to catch Doug and send him to jail, where he belonged.
All of the above having been said, I believe that, even though it's fiction, as are the characters and events, send a wrong message: That it's OK to rob banks and armored cars, endanger the lives of innocent bank employees and customers in the process, and to cause innocent people to be out a lot of money that they don't deserve to lose. The fact that banks are insured against robbery, and that money's certainly replaceable doesn't excuse this kind of crime, where there are victims.
Moreover, the film also sends a message that one doesn't have to be held accountable for his/her actions and behavior, that criminal behavior is OK, as long as one needs or wants to do it, and that it's OK to thumb one's nose at and make a total dupe out of the law enforcement people who're just doing their assigned job of cracking down on crime and taking perpetrators of crime down, as needed.
The fact that Claire helped Doug escape by tipping him off to the Feds in her apartment and kept the stolen money that Doug left her before skipping town for Florida, and spent money that wasn't hers to spend on the renovation of a seedy ice-hockey rink also bothered me a lot. Even though the film, events and people are fiction, the message that it sends is quite clear to me; that it's OK to endanger people's lives in order to steal their money, to lie to the Feds, and to get into relationships with unsavory people and then blame everyone around them except themselves.
"The Town" also sends the message that one doesn't have to be held accountable for their actions and behavior, that criminal behavior is OK, and that it's okay to thumb one's nose at law enforcement people who're trying to do their job of protecting the general public from and bringing career armed felons and wanted fugitives to justice, and to make dupes of the people who're trying to do so. Imo, Doug deserved to go to prison for his crimes for a long time, and Claire deserved to be criminally prosecuted herself for lying to the Feds, abetting Doug and enabling him to escape justice by tipping him off to the Feds, and for receiving stolen goods.
I really liked the beginning of the film, with the cool scenes of Charlestown, and the first bank robbery, when the four guys were in all-black ninja outfits and skull masks, but after that point, the film began to go downhill for me very rapidly.
My favorite film of the last few years.
Being a long time fan of Michael Mann's Heat, I found this film drew parallel lines on several aspects. One of the most important aspects is the complexity and accuracy of the robberies. Another was the "cleansing" of the environment post-heist.
Where this movie succeeded and Heat failed was the realization that these men live rather ordinary lives outside of their criminal escapades. They don't talk about playing it low key and then run around in Armani suits, drive expensive sports cars or live in water front condos. They also don't seem to run into the need to kill people as often.
As linear as the story is, Ben Affleck's talent behind the camera really showed in The Town. I really liked this movie despite my hate for Boston. A ridiculously good cast including some of my favorites from Chris Cooper to Jeremy Renner. We've all seen this story before. Guy falls for girl and it makes him have to choose. But Affleck's ability to make it gritty and real is the true genius. Like PSU said he brought realness to the characters. He didn't over-emphasize anyone, instead he showed the struggle that people go through as crooks and criminals. The acting is more than solid and the story is well told.
One of 2010's best.
I really liked the robbery scenes. Well done. the rest of the movie was ok at best. not sure why the a big deal was made of jeremy's part. he was ok, but nothign special at all. on the other hand, I really liked the part played by Blake Lively.
my one big problem is the know it all, always gets lucky head fbi guy. i hate movies when they have this character and takes out all the realism for me. I know it is for the drama of the movie or whatever, but it does not always have to be the same guy who is always ahead of the rest of the cops, finding everyone, knowing it all, ect. to me this is just a lazy way to make a film.
7/10 because i liked it, but it is not a film i will be watching more than 2 or 3 times in my life. FYI if they had blown up Fenway a little more, I would have gone as high as 8.
10/10 from me as well.
Ben Affleck is an incredible two for two as a director. I was captivated by this film and thoroughly enjoyed it. All the comparisons to the movie “Heat” are in line. It’s an intense film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, even in non action sequences. At times, you often wonder if it’s right to be rooting for Affleck’s character but even that aspect is addressed by a remarkably smart and crisp script. The cast is absolutely perfect.
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